Breaking Trafficking myths

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Anna Ptak is an Overcomer of sex trafficking in America. She has now dedicated her life to educating and advocating for the end of trafficking worldwide, with a personal focus on the link between sex trafficking and pornography. Anna’s role in the movement has been greatly focused around policy, law and curriculum development for safe houses, and working with survivors of sex trafficking. She assists in drafting legislation and testifying in various Congressional bodies. Additionally, Anna has launched an ethical fashion collection sewn by Overcomers of sex trafficking in Nepal, that was presented during New York Fashion Week in 2015. Recently, Anna was interviewed on the talk show “The Doctors” and has conducted speaking tours in both New York and California. We are honored to have Anna contribute to our growing dialogue about what trafficking looks like in our world today. Thank you, Anna, for sharing a bit of your story with us and educating us on the realities of human trafficking.

Human Trafficking has become a buzzing topic over the past few years. It has gained momentum to where most people at least know about it. Despite the awareness of the term, it is widely sensationalized and not always conveyed accurately. The topic is often sensationalized to gain followers or attention in the media. If you ever watch the news, you rarely see a non-dramatized version of a story. While I was studying abroad in Europe, several of my friends said they do not want to visit America because everyone is carrying guns and waiting to shoot people because of what they had seen in the media. Although these mass shootings are tragic and deserve every ounce of attention, it doesn’t mean that our entire country is saturated with people strutting around with armed guns.

I can’t tell you how many times people have heard that I was sexually trafficked and their first questions are either “How did you escape?” or “Where were you taken?” I try to extend grace to those who ask these questions because half of them simply do not understand what human trafficking looks like.  They have only seen what is in the news or in films such as Taken. I have even had people disappointed when they hear my story because it did not meet their expectations. It wasn’t “dramatic enough”. Due to these responses and misunderstandings, I thought clarifying some of these myths would be the perfect tool for you as you prepare to bring awareness this Winter.

Myth #1:

Human Trafficking always involves kidnapping.


Due to movies such as Taken, people think that in order to be trafficked you must be kidnapped. Human Trafficking is defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. Sex trafficking is when a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.  A victim can be tricked, deceived or forced into sex trafficking. Personally, I was never taken anywhere. My bondage came from being brainwashed to where I did not even know what was happening to me.

Myth #2:

Sex trafficking only happens to girls.


A study by The John Jay College and the Center for Court Innovation estimated that, in 2008, as high as 50% of the commercially sexually exploited (CSE) children in the United States were boys. In a related study done in Alberta, Canada, Dr. Susan McIntyre notes that “residential and supportive services were seen as needs by 84% of CSE men and boys.” I have tons of Overcomer brothers who are doing amazing work. I am constantly inspired and so amazed by these men pushing past the myth that boys are never abused.

Myth #3:

Human Trafficking is not happening in America.


I remember when I watched Taken and thought human trafficking was an intriguing topic and was only happening overseas. I began working in the movement with the mindset that I should go on a mission trip to a third world country. After learning more about it, I found out that the US is one of the top destinations for human trafficking. It may be happening in your own backyard!

Myth #4:

Human Trafficking only includes sex trafficking and labor trafficking.


Clearly, one of the most popular topics for human trafficking is sex trafficking. You mostly hear about labor trafficking by certain chocolate brands that sell fair trade products. A few other forms of human trafficking are organ trafficking, and baby trafficking. Organ trafficking is fueled by the demand for organs. For example, if someone cannot receive a kidney and is desperate, they may resort to the black market. I have seen cases where someone paid $20k for a kidney, making this an extremely lucrative industry. Organ trafficking is very common in Africa and Asia, but it is happening in America as well. Baby trafficking is one of the most tragic forms of human trafficking. As buyers, also known as “johns”, continue to purchase sex they become desensitized and want someone more extreme to satisfy this unhealthy desire. This is why the age of victims is becoming younger and younger, and even sometimes babies. I have also seen cases where babies of the victims of sex trafficking are used in pornography because the pimp has no other purpose for them.

Myth #5:

Pornography is not a form of sex trafficking.


Porn can easily become a form of sex trafficking. It is next to impossible to determine if a person is forced into pornography simply by watching it. I was doing pornography for over a year and did not even realize I was being tricked and brainwashed into doing it. Medical evidence shows that the effects of watching pornography are exactly the same as when you do drugs like heroin and cocaine. Pornography is also fueling the demand for the commercial sex industry. As viewers become desensitized to what they see on their screens, they begin to crave more extreme forms of pornography and start purchasing people for sex. My trafficker determined what I would do based off what he watched in the pornography he had seen. It didn’t matter that these acts were inhumane or that I would be in physical pain some days. What mattered was that his “art project” satisfied his sexual cravings.

I hope this list of myths equips you to be a more effective freedom fighter. Like caring for children, this movement takes a village!  There is a huge need for funding, volunteers and donations such as clothing or furniture for safe homes. We cannot effectively fight to end this crime if we do not understand what it actually looks like. I hope that this gives you a more accurate understanding of what human trafficking looks like. We become the steps that we take. If you do nothing, nothing will change. So go ahead, BE THE CHANGE!


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About the Author

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Anna Ptak is currently an international public speaker as well as an Overcomer and policy consultant in the movement to end Human Trafficking. In her spare time, Anna loves spending time with her husband, and their adorable puppy, Liam Alexander.