Human Trafficking: Myths and Misconceptions

with Megan Cutter of the National Human Trafficking Hotline

Human trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to an estimated 25 million people around the world.

Megan Cutter, Director of the National Human Trafficking Hotline, a program operated by Polaris, joins host Tetiana Anderson to share common misconceptions about human trafficking and continued efforts to combat this widespread issue.

Posted on:

January 03, 2022

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: We think of human trafficking as happening in faraway places, but that's just one of the many misconceptions surrounding this multifaceted problem. And, in fact, its impact is felt nearly everywhere, affecting people of all ages, ethnicities, and genders. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Human trafficking is a multibillion-dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to an estimated 25 million people all around the world, and here to help us understand the scope of the issue and its reach here in the US is Megan Cutter. She is the director of the National Human Trafficking Hotline. It's a program operated by Polaris, and, Megan, thanks for being here.

Cutter: Thank you so much for having me.

Anderson: So public awareness about human trafficking is on the rise, thanks in large part to organizations like yours, but there's still a lot of misinformation about the problem. Start off by talking about what it is. What is human trafficking?

Cutter: Absolutely. So there are two forms of human trafficking. The first is sex trafficking, when someone is compelled to provide sexual services through force, fraud, or coercion, and that there's some sort of exchange of money or something else of value for those services. This also includes anyone under the age of 18 who is providing commercial sex in exchange of something of value. The second form is labor trafficking, which is when someone is compelled through force, fraud, or coercion to provide some sort of labor or work and they're unable to quit their job without serious consequences of harm to themselves or to their families.

Anderson: So a lot of myths out there. Those were some of the actual facts, but what are some of the sort of common misconceptions, and how is Polaris working to combat those?

Cutter: Absolutely. So the first is that a lot of folks are very worried that human trafficking is a crime that can happen randomly and that they or their loved ones might be kidnapped off the street for the purposes of this crime, and that's not really something that we see. Most often, human trafficking is perpetrated by someone who the victim knows and trusts, so I would emphasize that. And then also, a lot of times when people talk about trafficking, they only talk about sex trafficking, and it's important to recognize that labor trafficking is actually quite likely to be a larger problem. There are more victims of labor trafficking than there are of sex trafficking.

Anderson: So what are some of the things that I guess real people can do to combat some of these forms of human trafficking? I mean, what can I do as an individual?

Cutter: Absolutely. So the first thing I would think about is identifying situations in which you as a community member, as an individual, have what we like to talk about on the hotline as proximity and context, so situations in which you may be close to someone who's being exploited and where you understand what it is that is happening for them. So an example that really illustrates this is if you are working in a restaurant as a host two days a week, you may have different information about what's going on for the workers in those restaurants, especially folks in the back of the house -- dishwashers or in the kitchen -- than someone who is a patron of the restaurant. So the patron of the restaurant, they maybe even come in once a week. They know a lot of the people there. This is a familiar location for them. They have proximity to where exploitation might be happening, but they don't necessarily have context. The hostess I mentioned, you know, she comes in a few times a week. She sometimes is in the kitchen. She sometimes is in the locker room where workers are getting ready, and she may even connect with some of those other workers and learn about what's going on for them. And that might be a situation where someone has context. They might know that the workers don't have their passports. They're always working. She might witness verbal abuse. So those are the two factors we talk about quite a bit when it comes to public awareness and what we as individuals can can actually do in order to identify this crime.

Anderson: All of this is about making it real, and there was an incident in D.C. recently, not too far from where I live, where a woman tweeted that a man tried to break into her hotel room. She suggested it might have been a case of human trafficking. It went viral. This made this real for me, but there are a lot of other people who don't think human trafficking happens and is real. How do you make it real for them?

Cutter: Absolutely. I think education is a really key factor in helping people understand the realities of this crime, and one of the things that Polaris has done this year is we've published a human trafficking one-on-one training on our website that talks a little bit about, like I mentioned earlier, the proximity and context and how to identify trafficking situations. But it also talks about who's vulnerable and how this crime happens, and that may help people really understand where this is going on in their own communities and make it real for them.

Anderson: Public awareness, understanding, they're all crucial to this, and I know that you guys have a much larger strategy called the big fight to accomplish that public awareness. Tell us what it is and how it works.

Cutter: Thank you so much for asking that. So the three big fights focus on sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and the ways that financial systems intersect with trafficking, so we're working to reduce sex trafficking in 25 cities, to end labor trafficking of migrant workers in the United States, and to partner with financial systems to improve the ways that they identify and respond to trafficking.

Anderson: And, Megan, I know that people are going to want to know more, so what's your website?

Cutter: We've got two. The first is for Polaris, and that website is And then the human trafficking hotline has its own website, which is

Anderson: Megan Cutter of the National Human Trafficking Hotline, thank you so much for being here.

Cutter: Thank you for having me.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well for joining. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, just log on to I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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