Bringing Awareness and Breaking Misconceptions about Human Trafficking to the UF Community

The truth about human trafficking and how you, as a college student, can help bring awareness to this issue

By Kelsey Baughman

With an influx of social media posts titled “#SaveOurChildren” as well as recent sex trafficking charges with Father Michael Zacharias of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Findlay, Ohio, the University of Findlay community has an opportunity to be more aware of human trafficking. This awareness includes understanding what human trafficking is and stopping the spread of misconceptions about human trafficking. Although this task seems large, University of Findlay students and faculty have a plethora of opportunities that they can rely on to increase knowledge and put an end to human trafficking.

            Instructor of Teaching and Field Coordinator in Social work at the University of Findlay Professor Megan Gonyer, says, although Father Zacharias’ charges are an example of one instance of human trafficking, there are some misconceptions about human trafficking such as what exactly human trafficking is and how it occurs.

 “Some of the misconception about what human trafficking is is that we have this idea that people are being snatched off the street, from parking lots, or in these like seedy, dark places and that’s often not what it looks like,” Gonyer said.

 Rather, human trafficking victims are brought into trafficking through ways that are more convenient and through people that they know.

Associate Professor of Forensic Science at the University of Findlay, Dr. Jaymelee Kim agrees.

“The vast majority of trafficking is through coercion and grooming where you build a relationship with the person like building their trust and then, you start manipulating them,” Kim said.

 “When I was still practicing social work before I started teaching, a lot of people didn’t think about this as human trafficking,” Gonyer said. “However, I worked with parents who would have a substance use addiction. Often, to meet the needs of their addiction and as a replacement of cash, they would give their children over to their drug dealer to use their children sexually so they could, in turn, get the heroin that they need.”

In addition to parents, traffickers can include other familiar people in a victim’s life such as significant others and employers in cases of labor trafficking. But, why exactly does human trafficking occur?

“It’s a huge money-making industry,” Kim said. “Globally, trafficking generates a $150 billion profit per year.”

            In addition to how and why human trafficking occurs, there can also be misconceptions about how often human trafficking occurs due to reporting and how human trafficking overlays with other crimes.

“When we look at trafficking, you go by the legal definition, but there’s going to be a lot of overlap which we see even in the recent case in Findlay,” Kim said. “Some of these overlaps include prostitution since victims are being coerced by someone else or not getting to keep the money themselves, domestic violence, and sexual assault. With these overlaps, it is difficult with training police officers to identify if a situation is prostitution or trafficking.”

“Another difficulty with human trafficking is that most people do not self-identify as victims of human trafficking,” Kim said. “It is because of the nature of coercion, so it might be an instance of ‘My relationship is crappy. I have to sleep with these people to get money for rent or my boyfriend and I will get kicked out, even though I give all the money to my boyfriend.’ However, they are not thinking about how their boyfriend is trafficking them.”

This can also lead to an officer identifying a situation as one of the crimes that overlay with trafficking like domestic violence.

When relating this information to human trafficking statistics, statistics found on anti-human trafficking sites like the Polaris Project are based off calls they receive from victims. If a human trafficking victim does not self-identify or their crime is misidentified, these instances of human trafficking may go unnoticed and unaccounted for.

            A final misconception with human trafficking can also be found within social media and the recent “#SaveOurChildren” movement. A recent social media post showed a mother disguising her daughter as a boy and putting duct tape over her mouth hidden by a mask to demonstrate how human trafficking may go unnoticed in the age of COVID-19.

“The public concern for masks has come to the attention of the Hancock County Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition that I am apart of, but statistically, the chances of someone being trafficked by a stranger where they snatch you and put a mask on you are very low,” Kim said. “Out of the survivors that I work with locally, all of the people that were sex trafficked was by someone they knew.”

“The biggest thing is to not share false information and to check what sources are first before sharing information on a social media platform or by word of mouth,” Gonyer said. “In addition, it is important to find good sources of information because the more real information we share, the better. #SaveOurChildren is not bad, but the information that we post along with that should be good, real sources of information.”

            In addition to understanding human trafficking and breaking misconceptions, UF students and faculty have a multitude of ways and resources that they can use to become more knowledgeable about human trafficking. Gonyer and Kim suggest taking up training opportunities like becoming a Human Trafficking 101 Trainer like Kim, attending sessions, meetings, and conferences at your local Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition, asking professors for guest speakers to speak about human trafficking, dispelling myths, and communicating signs about human trafficking. Another opportunity for UF students and faculty to spread awareness and knowledge about human trafficking is through joining the Criminal Justice Club on campus. President of the Criminal Justice Club Sadie Hill says the club is open to all majors and she would love to incorporate more events surrounding human trafficking.

 “We have come a long way,” Kim said in regards to human trafficking awareness and knowledge, but it is important to continue this mission to eventually put an end to the coercion of innocent victims through instances of trafficking and this starts with a strong community present in the students and faculty at the University of Findlay.


Human Trafficking Fast Facts

  • According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, human trafficking includes sex trafficking and labor trafficking.
    • Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.
    • Labor trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.
  • According to the Polaris Project, in 2019, Polaris investigated 11,500 situations of human trafficking that were reported to the Polaris-operated US National Human Trafficking Hotline.  
  • To find out more information about human trafficking, please refer to the following resources below:

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