The arrest of a 54-year-old Topeka man accused of human trafficking last week was concerning, but also the kind of story that be misunderstood. In the wake of such news, rumors can spread on social media, stereotypes can be trotted out, and ultimately, many of us can miss the point altogether.


Undergirding those rumors? The myth that human trafficking always involves the abduction of children for use as sex slaves.


According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline: “By far the most pervasive myth about human trafficking is that it always — or often — involves kidnapping or otherwise physically forcing someone into a situation. In reality, most human traffickers use psychological means such as tricking, defrauding, manipulating or threatening victims into providing commercial sex or exploitative labor.”


And that’s the key. Victims of human trafficking are often groomed through social media or exploited by people who might know them through family or community links. As a matter of fact, we see fewer than 100 abduction cases a year.


Victims are not solely being trafficked for sex, either. Sometimes they are forced to work in “industries including restaurants, cleaning services, construction, factories and more,” the hotline says.


Victims aren’t necessarily children, either. They can be teens or even adults. And they’re not all girls or women. Men can also be victims of human trafficking.


Most importantly, victims often aren’t being held in chains or a locked room. It may appear as if they’re content with their “work.” But that also feeds into the myths surrounding this issue.


“Some lack the basic necessities to physically get out — such as transportation or a safe place to live,” the hotline writes. “Some are afraid for their safety. Some have been so effectively manipulated that they do not identify at that point as being under the control of another person.”


What does all this mean? It means that human trafficking isn’t simple or easy to solve, and that we can actively harm the people caught in this life by spreading misinformation about who they are and how they’re suffering.


Together, we can tackle the myths. We can look out for one another. We can realize that the stories and lives of people who are trafficked are complicated.


Many of these individuals are by no means “perfect.” But they are still, most definitely, victims.