In July 2020, Polaris, a nonprofit organization working to combat human trafficking, said its National Human Trafficking Hotline had received hundreds of reports “that reference a series of viral posts claiming online retailer Wayfair has been involved in a complex scheme involving sex trafficking of children.” Polaris said calls based on that conspiracy theory overwhelmed its system, making it difficult for the group to help real victims. . . misinformation is hindering their already demanding missions.
An open letter to Candidates, the Media, Political Parties, and Policymakers
As a member of U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, MMS endorse the following letter, signed by more than 80 organizations that are currently fighting human trafficking:
As survivors, service providers, human and labor rights advocates, law enforcement officials, researchers and policy experts, we know human trafficking is real. For decades we have worked to raise awareness, enforce the law with a victim-centered approach, identify and aid survivors in their recovery, address underlying root causes, and establish policies to end this horrific crime. Our collective efforts have been aided by champions across the political spectrum. From Senators Sam Brownback and Paul Wellstone to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the bipartisan message has been clear:
You don’t score political points on the backs of human trafficking survivors, and you don’t lie about human trafficking to scare voters. We are in this together.
It is with this collective and collaborative history in mind that we say we are alarmed and deeply disturbed by the intentional spread of conspiracy theories and disinformation about sex trafficking aiming to sow fear and division in order to influence the upcoming election. Anybody — political committee, public office holder, candidate, or media outlet — who lends any credibility to QAnon conspiracies related to human trafficking actively harms the fight against human trafficking. Indeed, any political committee, candidate, public office holder or media that does not expressly condemn QAnon and actively debunk the lies should be held accountable.
Instead of actively propagating or silently condoning disinformation that harms trafficking victims and survivors and dismantles years of bipartisan cooperation, we offer the real facts about human trafficking.
The majority of trafficked youth have been abused or neglected, have run away or don’t have stable housing, or are immigrant children fleeing violence in their home countries to seek refuge in the United States. They are the youth that we as a society have failed. They are not abducted by strangers or Hollywood elites — they are abandoned by failing and under-resourced systems. There is not a deep state cabal of Democratic politicians and Hollywood celebrities who traffic children for sex. No major political candidate or party supports or condones pedophilia or human trafficking.
We work on these issues. We would know. Any time we spend engaging these lies necessarily distracts from the real work needed to combat human trafficking, and there is a lot to do:
• We need policies that address systemic vulnerabilities of children to both sex trafficking and forced labor.
• We need more housing, social, legal and employment support for survivors and vulnerable youth.
• We need to invest in fixing the child welfare system and building compassionate and robust responses so that meaningful support is available for any young person in need.
• We need to invest in better training, strengthen victim-centered investigations, and expand survivor access to alternative forms of justice.
• We need better data, and greater diplomatic engagement so that human trafficking doesn’t get sidelined as a soft issue to be addressed after “real” foreign policy.
• We need an end to discriminatory practices against immigrants and communities of color.
• We need accountability for corporations who can figure out how to maximize profit but not how to protect their workers.
• We need funding and systems change that reflect these needs, not craven political messaging that ignores these realities in service of harmful lies.
As a diverse field, we acknowledge a spectrum of experiences, views, and approaches. We disagree a LOT. On this though, we stand UNITED and we reiterate: Anybody — political committee, candidate, or media outlet — who lends any credibility to QAnon conspiracies related to human trafficking actively harms the fight against human trafficking. This is an issue where Republicans and Democrats have historically put real differences aside in service of a greater truth: Americans stand united against human trafficking.
On behalf of an underfunded and nonpartisan field dedicated to ending this horrific form of exploitation and abuse and helping those who have survived it, we urge you to engage real needs rather than politically motivated and profoundly dangerous narratives that harm the very people who they claim to be speaking for — victims, survivors, children, families and vulnerable communities.