The Indicators of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking, summarized from its definition by the United States Department of Justice, involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.

It is a difficult crime to detect because victims can be anyone and rarely self-identify.

There are several indicators that can help identify potential trafficking victims. Being able to recognize red flags and possible indicators is the first step to rescuing the victim and arresting their trafficker.

The following indicators, however, are not all-encompassing. Every human trafficking victim is different. Victims may exhibit only one of these indicators, or they may exhibit several.

Being Controlled

Human traffickers often manipulate their victims so that they are dependent on traffickers to do things that any other individual would have no problem doing on their own. These indicators include:

  • Not in control of their own identification (ID or Passport)
  • Not allowed or able to speak for themselves; refusal to make eye contact
  • Has little personal property, wears the same clothes over and over again, or carries their belongings in a trash bag
  • Paid mostly in cash; not in control of their own money or has no financial records or bank account

Workplace Conditions

Human trafficking encompasses both labor and sex trafficking, and the indicators within the workplace can look like the following:

  • Recruited with false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his or her work
  • Unpaid or paid very little by cash tips, off the record
  • Has a pimp or manager or someone who will not leave their side
  • Not free to leave or come and go as they wish
  • Works long and/or unusual hours
  • Has a large debt that cannot be paid off
  • Is under the age of 18 and performing sex acts in exchange for anything of value
  • Exchanges commercial sex acts for needs like shelter, food, or other means of survival

Mental and Physical Health

How do the effects of human trafficking exhibit themselves on a victim? Indicators can include the following:

  • Fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, nervous, or paranoid
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture, such as bruises, cuts, etc.
  • Has branding scars such as burns or tattoos with crowns or money symbols
  • No access to healthcare, or unable to access healthcare without supervision
  • Appears malnourished or extremely skinny
  • Appears to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Overly attached to one person or has one person overly attached to them
  • Needs permission or directly to make simple decisions, such as going to the bathroom
  • Unusually afraid or anxious around law enforcement or when law enforcement is mentioned

What Should You Do if You Suspect Someone is Being Trafficked?

Although you may feel the need to intervene, it’s important that you not attempt to confront a suspected trafficker directly or alert a victim to any suspicions.

Always report suspicious and/or illegal activity to law enforcement

It is up to law enforcement to investigate suspected cases of human trafficking. The best way to assist law enforcement is:

  • 1) Observe: What are the indicators? How are they acting? What do they look like? Where are they? Who are they with?
  • 2) Document: Covertly take down vehicle information and plate numbers. Note what time of day it is. Record the address where the encounter occurred.
  • 3) Report: Contact local law enforcement and provide them all the details you have. Call 911 if you are witnessing an emergency situation.

DeliverFund cannot take tips from the public. Please always contact local law enforcement, and they will contact DeliverFund for assistance.

You can find a shareable and downloadable infographic of the indicators of human trafficking below. To join the fight against human trafficking and support DeliverFund’s mission, click here.

HT Indicators Infographic

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