Why Does Human Trafficking Happen?: Moral Disengagement

As I continue to learn about human trafficking, how often it occurs in our societies, and how horrific a crime it can be, I ask myself, ‘why does human trafficking happen?’. How can our supposedly “evolved” societies still support a crime that seems so animalistic?

There are many, many reasons why human trafficking still occurs, and I will discuss several of them in this blog. While some obvious reasons for trafficking are a demand for sex, labor, and organs, as well as the monetary benefits gained through these demands, today I want to touch on a reason that helps us to understand the psychology of traffickers.

Why try to understand the psychology of “bad” people?


While there are countless theories about why people do the things they do, I find Social Cognitive Theory’s idea of moral disengagement to be particularly interesting.

Often, when we hear the word ‘theory’ we might be prone to a mental shutdown. Why try to understand the psychology of criminals? Without understanding why people may choose to commit a crime, it is difficult, impossible I should say, to create strategies to prevent a crime from taking place. Simply understanding traffickers as “bad” people, doesn’t allow us to understand why trafficking, or any behavior that harms another individual, occurs.

According to Social Cognitive theory, people are generally nice to others because they learn ‘self-regulation’ through gaining a set of morals (McAlister, Perry, & Parcel, 2008, p. 175). According to the idea of moral disengagement, people can “disengage” from their morals because they change how they think about particular actions (McAlister, Perry, & Parcel, 2008, p. 175). The four ways people can ‘achieve’ this change in thinking are gathered from McAlister, Perry, and Parcel’s (2008) paper on Social Cognitive Theory and are outlined below. Additionally, there are some examples I came up with for how these ideas can be applied to a human trafficking situation:

  • “euphemistic labeling” – a trafficker may label human trafficking, as a “business”, a melancholy-1773335_640“living”, or anything else that makes their actions seem less immoral. Similarly, they can say they are “punishing” a victim, instead of abusing them. Therefore, they do not have to confront their actions as an opposition to their morals.
  • “dehumanization and attribution of blame” – a trafficker may choose to believe a victim deserves to be treated in an exploited way due to differences between the trafficker and a victim such as ethnicity, origin, race, religion, culture, beliefs, or any other possible difference between two people.
  • “diffusion and displacement of responsibility” – a trafficker may consider their boss as responsible for how they are treating a victim. Similarly, they may blame the group they are involved in, such as a gang, for the action, even though they are choosing to take part in trafficking.
  • “perceived moral justification” – a trafficker may choose to see the exploitation of a victim as being a good thing because of the effects it creates. This effect could be supporting themselves or their family, giving people a way to support themselves (for example a pimp), or any other possible way to justify an action. Many things can influence how a person perceives justification of an action, including their environment and background.

This brief explanation of moral disengagement will hopefully allow us to have a better understanding of how traffickers, and anyone, can commit an act that might conflict with their usual understanding of moral values. I encourage you to delve deeper into Social Cognitive Theory, as well as other theories which seek to explain our behaviors.

Please feel free to comment or contact me with any questions or concerns.



McAlister, A. L., Perry, C., & Parcel, G.  (2008). How individuals, environments and health behaviors interact: Social Cognitive Theory. In K. Glanz, B. Rimer, & K. Viswanth (Eds.), Health behavior and education: Theory, research, and practice (4th ed., pp. 169-188). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley and Sons

4 Replies to “Why Does Human Trafficking Happen?: Moral Disengagement”

      1. You are very welcome, you deserved it, and while I was on your Blog I happened to read your qualifications, and you remind me of a very Good Friend.
        The Lady’s name is Ms Kate King,and her Blog is: https://kaitkingthewriter.blog/
        I think very highly of Kate, and think you would enjoy talking with Ms King, she is also in Our Circle, and she has the qualifications where she would be very happy to give you a different perspective than I could give.
        Noel, I hope you don’t think I would ever attemot to talk you out of the field you have chosen, and I would never ask someone else to. Thing of that nature would not prove me to be a good man in my opinion, and I believe you realize what this endeavor means to me, It is my Stewardship for Our Loving GOD, and I have always loved Children, and for that matter, I love my fellow man, I just can’t understand how anyone could even think of hurting another human, but someeone that preys upon the weak in any fashion, has always had to deal with me and my Team until about a year ago, but I still wish I could do it as safely as before, but it was time for me to turn in my sewer rat hunting desire.
        Noel, I am going to mention you to Ms. King, and if you wouldn’t mind, edit this last part out of here please.
        OK Noel, Kate is/was a Professional in Law Enforcement, and I don’t mean just a patrolman.

        PS- I know I saw where THORN was always hiring, But also NCMEC….
        I send all Good Things your way


  1. Hi there! So thankful to find your blog! I am also passionate about fighting human trafficking, and I’m encouraged to see someone else who feels the same. I’ve found, too, that trafficking is extremely prominent where great wealth is in close proximity to great poverty. This goes back to your thinking that victims “deserve it” or that traffickers are “helping them”. We see this in other aspects of the sex industry, including in strip clubs – the mentality is quite similar. Thanks for what you’re doing to spread the word! Feel free to reach out to our team at any point if you would like to speak with fellow freedom fighters!


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