Mythbusters: Inaccuracies in Human Trafficking “Facts”

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The false fact that “according to some estimates, approximately 80% of trafficking involves sexual exploitation and 19% involves labor exploitation” has been spread widely through a large array of human trafficking related websites and organizations. These websites include the National Coalition against Domestic Violence and the Kansas State University Wildcats Against Slavery, a college campus anti-trafficking group, whose misinterpretation of a human trafficking study analysis led to the above false statistic. In addition to these sources, other websites have quoted the misguided aforementioned sites, continuing the distribution of this falsified information. One example of such a site is Marriage Now, which appears to have just copied and pasted information from an array of random sources, one of which is the National Coalition against Domestic Violence, the aforementioned site that misinterpreted the data originally. These three websites only scratch the surface of the large array of poorly cited organizations and websites that spout this “statistic” without citing its original source properly, illustrating how easy it is in our modern tech-savvy society to disseminate incorrect or misleading information.

This myth leads one to think that of all cases of human trafficking everywhere around the world, 80% of the victims were forced to perform sexual labor while 19% were made to perform manual labor. As for the other 1%, the original report from which these percentages came does not even report what kind of trafficking occurred in these instances.  While these numbers may sound plausible to someone unlearned in the nuances of human trafficking, the original statistic being miscited clarifies that these figures arise from one review of 3,671 cases.  Why is this significant?  The original source clearly states that “on those cases for which the information is available, more than 80% were for purposes of sexual exploitation and 19% for forced labour” (Kangaspunta, 2003). We can conclude from this that out of all 3,671 cases reviewed in establishing these statistics, not every single case had the relevant information on which these percentages were based, meaning that these percentages are not truly representative of all the cases in the study alone. In addition, these percentages are only representative of the cases examined within this study and therefore do not apply to the entirety of human trafficking incidents.

With that being said, the statistic espoused by many inaccurate websites stating that “according to some estimates, approximately 80% of trafficking involves sexual exploitation and 19% involves labor exploitation” is inaccurate for the sole reason that they are taking a statistic that was specific to a very narrow analytical study and are then generalizing it to be true for all instances of human trafficking. While the idea of extrapolating information from one limited study and applying it to the entirety of human trafficking may sound like a wise, scientific approach to learning and creating statistics, this leads to the common mistake of making the logical fallacy of a hasty generalization. This results when a large conclusion is drawn on a small sample size, which is exactly what has happened in this case: it has been generalized that 80% of human trafficking that occurs worldwide is sex trafficking and that 19% that occurs is labor trafficking, when in reality, these statistics only apply to the extremely small sample size in this particular study.

Part of the issue with this statistic is that the field of research in human trafficking is still fairly young, as it has only been around for about fifteen years.  With that being said, it is very difficult to give any exact estimate on the prevalence of human trafficking, much less a percentage breakdown of the prevalence of its different forms.  This is due in part to the fact that human trafficking is not something that is widely visible in the general public.  This practice occurs in secrecy in commercial front brothels and in undisclosed locations; therefore, information on human trafficking is not readily available to researchers. On top of that, many impoverished nations and regions of the world where human trafficking is prevalent do not even have statistics on human trafficking in their area.  It is extremely difficult to give one firm estimate on the percentage breakdown on the prevalence of the varying forms of human trafficking when consistent, reliable numbers and statistics on human trafficking do not exist from all regions of  the world.  In addition, there are a plethora of unreported instances of human trafficking every single year, which further contributes to the lack of reliable statistical information. Men are also extremely underrepresented in trafficking statistics.  Popular culture and the media paint this as a women and children’s issue, when in reality, men are also affected by this horrid practice as well.  Over the years, methods have been refined to establish more accurate and meaningful statistics, which calls into question why organizations who are trying to educate the general public would utilize statistics with information from over ten years ago. That is exactly what has occurred in the case of this factoid. The original report from which all of these websites are misreporting was initially published in 2003, the earlier years of human trafficking research, which further lends to the outdatedness of this estimate.  In addition, the internet, social media, and news media contribute to the dissemination of false or inaccurate information.

As explained above, this false statistic has some negative implications because it is not truly representative of the varying forms of human trafficking survivors have endured.  This misrepresentation overshadows the significance of other types of human trafficking, including organ harvesting, forced child begging, and a plethora of other forms, by making them seem like they are almost non-existent.  As a result, this can shift the focus of human trafficking efforts to focus more on sex trafficking and less on these other forms of the issue, which can skew the public’s perception of the true forms of trafficking and prevent those who are still desperate for help from getting it.

Instead of giving rigid, specific percentages when referring to the prevalence of the varying forms of human trafficking, it may be more advisable to use language like “out of X number of cases reported in one study, X percent of them were being sex trafficked” or “in one research case study, researchers found that X percent of survivors endured the abuses of labor trafficking.”  By keeping statistics relative to the specific information on which they were deduced, hasty generalizations can be avoided in the field of statistical analysis and the true number of incidences of trafficking can be more accurately represented.

The false rumor that “approximately 80% of trafficking involves sexual exploitation and 19% involves labor exploitation” is widely circulated and is the result of misunderstood results from a study. As a negative consequence of its distribution by the internet and other media sources, some other forms of human trafficking are being overlooked.  Resulting from this is the need to continue developing refined methods of establishing accurate trafficking statistics and the necessity to cultivate increased consciousness in the avoidance of making broad assumptions about human trafficking based on a small, outdated sets of data. With the proper awareness and education, misrepresentation of statistics and information can be avoided in the crusade to end human trafficking in our world.

Works Cited

“Human Trafficking Facts.” National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Nd. Web. Accessed 5 Oct. 2016. < http://www.ncdsv.org/images/NCADV_HumanTraffickingFacts.pdf. >

“Human Trafficking; Human Trafficking Worldwide.” KSU Freedom Alliance. Nd. Web.

Accessed 5 Oct. 2016. <http://www.ksufreedomalliance.org/human-trafficking.html&gt;

“Human Trafficking.” Marriage Now. Nd. Web. Accessed 5 Oct. 2016.

<http://marriagenow.net/human-trafficking/&gt;

Kangaspunta, K.  (2003).  Mapping the Inhuman Trade: Preliminary Findings of the Human

Trafficking Database, as presented to the United Nations Division for the Advancement

of Women. Nd. Web. Accessed 5 Oct. 2016. <www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/meetings/consult/CM-Dec03-CRP1.pdf.>

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