Is there evidence that posters advertising jobs for teenagers are actually sex trafficking schemes? No, that's not true: According to representatives for anti-sex trafficking organizations, such posters are not known to be tied to sex trafficking, although they have been linked to labor schemes.
The claim appeared in a Facebook post (archived here) on January 28, 2020. It features a picture of a poster headed "WANTED Teens for After School Job." The post's caption reads:
If you see these around your neighborhood call law enforcement immediately as this is a group of people abducting teens for sex trafficking please keep a look out!
This is what the post looked like on Facebook on July 29, 2021:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Thu Jul 29 21:17:08 2021 UTC)
Lead Stories could not locate the origin of the image of the poster in the Facebook post, but a reverse image search on Yandex showed that the image has been online since at least 2016. On July 29, 2021, we called the phone number included on another version of the image of the poster, but the number was not in service.
Polaris, a leading nonprofit organization fighting against sex and labor trafficking, has addressed myths about child sex trafficking through its research, including a specific rumor from 2020 that warned against opening text messages about unclaimed packages, saying it put the recipient at risk for sex trafficking (a falsehood that was also debunked by Lead Stories here). In an email to Lead Stories on July 29, 2021, Ayan Ahmed, communications specialist at Polaris, said:
I consulted with my colleagues on the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline about this and I can confirm that we haven't really seen the use of posters as a recruitment tool in child sex trafficking situations. However, while the Hotline can't confirm if this particular poster was reported in connection to a trafficking situation, we have always received reports about suspicious posters advertising jobs to high school students or the like. Additionally, it is not uncommon for posters like this to be used in recruitment for labor trafficking in traveling sales crews or peddling rings (you can find more information on both types of trafficking here: https://polarisproject.org/resources/the-typology-of-modern-slavery-defining-sex-and-labor-trafficking-in-the-united-states/ and here: https://polarisproject.org/resources/knocking-at-your-door-labor-trafficking-on-sales-crews/).
Ahmed also discussed Polaris' official stance on potential sex trafficking misinformation:
Polaris always encourages the public to educate themselves and others on the issues of sex and labor trafficking as well as the resources available to assist survivors of trafficking. However, we strongly caution against spreading stories with potentially misleading information about human trafficking recruitment tactics as they may ultimately cause more harm than good. Through our work operating the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline we have learned a great deal about some of the methods of recruitment used by traffickers. Traffickers commonly prey on the specific vulnerabilities of their victim by making promises aimed at addressing the needs of their target as a way to impose their control. They may establish strong psychological and emotional ties with their victims before forcing or coercing them to engage in commercial sex. To learn more about what human trafficking looks like, please visit www.polarisproject.org/recognizing-human-trafficking.
Richard Aronson, director of communications at Shared Hope International, a survivor-focused, sex trafficking prevention organization, responded similarly in an email to Lead Stories on July 29, 2021:
Though these posters may be put out by bad actors, the likelihood is that it is just some organization looking for cheap labor though I have no prod [sic] regarding this particular poster.
Sex traffickers do not usually advertise this way. They are much more discreet and use long-term tactics to coerce kids into sexual exploitation.
Lead Stories has debunked several child sex trafficking claims including the ones below:
Fact Check: There Is NOT A Child Sex Trafficking Facility In Tucson, Arizona
Fact Check: A McDonald's In Maryland Was NOT Closed Due To A Sex Trafficking Investigation
Fact Check: 'Out Of Shadows' Film Does NOT Prove Satanic Child Rapists Control Government, Hollywood, And A D.C. Pizza Parlor