Human trafficking has many myths. A quick search of social media will lead to posts about the topic, some created to stoke fear.
FBI Special Agent Kimberly Granich, a Longview native, spoke Thursday to the Zonta Club of Longview for a presentation at Holiday Inn North called “Mythbusters: Human Trafficking Edition” aimed at educating the public on common trafficking myths and how to combat them.
While human trafficking is a real threat, it’s not always like in movies or television.
“Most of trafficking is not like the movie ‘Taken,’ ” Granich said. “That’s not what we normally see.”
She said preconceived notions about human trafficking can be harmful to victims, as well.
“Stranger kidnappings are not the norm,” Granich said. “(Traffickers are) going to to look for the easier catch.”
Granich has investigated human trafficking and violence for 10 years.
She used the term “commercial sex” rather than prostitution during her presentation to discuss sex work as to “not always put the blame on the victim.”
One of the myths discussed Thursday was “trafficking doesn’t happen in my city/neighborhood/or school.”
“I saw this all the time when I would go to the nicer parts of town where I was from, the nicer city, the more affluent. I would hear, ‘It does not happen here, it does not happen at our Christian private school,’ ” Granich said. “That’s just simply not true. It can happen anywhere, and it does happen everywhere.”
FBI Victim Specialist Caitlyn Neff of Tyler also spoke Thursday, encouraging those who suspect they have witnessed human trafficking to contact local authorities. She covers 30 counties in East Texas.
“Longview, Tyler and Texarkana are huge for human trafficking,” Neff said, adding that the proximity to Interstate 20 makes the area a trafficking hub.
Granich said she ran a search Monday on a website where ads are posted for “services,” and 40 ads for commercial sex in the Longview area were listed.
Human trafficking is not always sexual nor does it require cages or chains to imprison the victims.
“The law does not require that,” Granich said. “It’s more sensational, which is why you hear more about it.”
She told the story of a woman who was trafficked by a pimp for more than a year. He sent her out of state to work, and she was forced to send money back to him. During this time, he kept her 3-year-old son.
Forced work while a trafficker or pimp keeps any money earned is common as well, including domestic servitude and labor trafficking, she added.
Granich cited a case where a woman traveled to another country, falsified paperwork and brought back another woman as a nanny in domestic servitude. The woman abused the nanny, did not pay her and threatened to have her deported.
Traffickers or pimps do not always use drugs to control victims, as force, fraud and coercion are common means.
Granich added that not all prostitution or commercial sex is sex trafficking.
“Not every woman is being trafficked,” she said.
There is no “mold” for a trafficker and victim, Granich said. Traffickers can be men and women, and victims can be any age and any gender, such as boys and even transgender individuals.
One slide on the presentation said, “consent = non-victim,” which she said is a myth. Not all victims want to be rescued.
“That’s what they want to believe,” she said. Granich said she could not count the times she had been punched, kicked or spit on when recovering victims from trafficking situations. Often, traffickers are offering victims lives, though terrible, that are better than what they had before.
“A pimp can make them feel wanted, desired,” she said.
Granich encourages parents to be prepared to have conversations with their children about sex and consent as well as talking about dangers.
“You want to make sure they’re not exploiting themselves as well,” she said.
Trafficking victims are often from the same nationality as the pimp. For example, American pimps will often have American victims just as Mexican pimps will have Mexican victims.