Some of you may have heard of the ‘save the children’ hashtag.
While this hashtag may have started out with good intentions to spread awareness about human trafficking, many popular social media hashtags and movements can devolve into perpetuating something more mythical than grounded. Some of these movements can sometimes cast a shadow over the truth of the survivors we have the privilege to serve. It is a smokescreen for human traffickers. This is dangerous.
Here’s the truth: traffickers are shrewd entrepreneurs. They are calculated and meticulous in their actions. Manipulating a trafficked person typically involves a close and exploitative relationship – not a stranger-danger “snatch and grab.” Often, traffickers are people the victim feels s/he can trust: a romantic partner – a boyfriend. Or as we often see in cases of child trafficking in East Tennessee, a family member – mom. Dad. This manipulation happens slowly, over time; weeks, months, years.
Traffickers understand that relationships are powerful, and they target vulnerable populations because those populations are already inherently compromised. Many individuals who fall victim to human trafficking already need something – food, shelter, money, love, compassion, stability. So traffickers both compromise their victim and provide what seems to be his/her only solution at the same time.
This isn’t to say that kidnapping never happens, but stranger danger and kidnapping are not how we see human trafficking happening in East Tennessee. Traffickers don’t have to conceal their identities behind a mask, and they don’t have to hide their victims behind masks either; they already have the best cover of all: that of a parent. That of a romantic partner. The relationship they’ve cultivated makes it easy for them and for their actions to fly under the radar.
So what can you do?
We are so excited to see our community mobilized and passionate about counter-trafficking work. But consider the stories and clients we serve in East Tennessee when you use this hashtag. Sensationalizing the issue we face as a community detracts from the truth we see and shelters the systems and people who oppress vulnerable individuals in our community. It is vital that we work together to raise awareness about the truths of human trafficking – not just for our community, but for victims who are looking for a way out of this life.