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Opinion: Misunderstandings about human trafficking

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Stories of supposed attempted kidnappings by Uber drivers have gone viral on social media. People have been sharing their close encounters with suspicious characters they presume to be human traffickers.

One such case was of a Florida woman, Emmy Hurley, who was picked up from the Tampa International Airport. She got in an Uber, and it took her in the wrong direction. The driver seemingly ignored her distress and in a panic, she rolled out of the moving car and called the police. Hurley shared her story on Facebook and it went viral.

However, once police investigated her story they found she was mistaken and had gotten in the wrong car. Her driver barely spoke English, so she did not understand Emmy’s distress.

While this story doesn’t take away from the fact that human trafficking is a prevalent problem in America, it shows that many people have false assumptions about what human trafficking really is. Many people will see it as much as it is portrayed in the film “Taken.” A young woman alone is followed by men, kidnapped and sold into sex slavery. That, however, is not the case.

…human traffickers tend to lure vulnerable teens over time. It’s a completely different crime,” FBI agent Beth Boggess explained to KUSA TV. “We don’t see kidnapping for human trafficking.”

While there is no exact profile for what a human trafficking victim is, studies have shown that homeless and runaway youth are most susceptible and likely to being trafficked.

A Chicago study showed that these groups, often women, will be approached by a “pimp” and be shown affection to gain their trust. They are often pressured to use drugs in order to keep them dependent on their pimp and lose any of their free wills. 

Uber has faced many scandals before, such as the sexual assault of passengers by drivers, and due to the immense pressure under the company, they have joined the fight against human trafficking.

According to their website, Uber is partnering with the Nation Center for Missing and Exploited Children as well as training drivers to see the signs of trafficking victims. While the urban legend claims Uber drivers will kidnap and sell girls into sex slavery, it is actually Uber drivers who unknowingly drive trafficked girls to their “John”. 

In December 2016 NBC news reported an Uber driver in Sacramento discovered his passenger was a victim of sex trafficking.

Keith Avila picked up two passengers who openly talked about “meeting up with a john” and getting payment from him. The girl was obviously underage so a suspicious Avila called the police once he dropped the girls off at a Holiday Inn. The girl was discovered by Sacramento PD to be a runaway, and her parents were called. 

According to the ACLU, around 12.3 million people are victims of labor and sex trafficking. The driving causes are gender discrimination/violence and the demand for cheap labor.

It is estimated that up to 17,000 individuals have been trafficked across borders into the US but the real number cannot be known. Also according to the ACLU, almost all victims of trafficking in the US are immigrant women, and most victims are in their 20s.

They are often manipulated by the threat of deportation and violence against their families.

Many videos and twitter threads appear online warning girls about human traffickers and kidnappings. Many of these threads give tips on what to do if you’re being followed and signs to look out for.

Cases of supposed attempted kidnapping are shared, like Emmy Hurley’s, and this fear-mongering leads to false assumptions about the crime of human trafficking. Vulnerable youths and migrants are often forced into labor or sex slavery and manipulated into situations that are ignored in favor of scary situations people post online that go viral. 

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