Know the Signs

Human Trafficking most often occurs in plain sight, contrary to the common conception. Being aware of human trafficking indicators is the first step in making a difference in the lives of those who may be entrapped. The following is a partial list of potential red flags and indicators of human trafficking and modern slavery. If you recognize any of these signs, please call 1-888-373-7888 to report a situation to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Please Note: Not all the indicators listed are present in all trafficking situations.

A person may be trafficked if they:

  • Cannot leave their work environment or cannot quit to find another job
  • Do not have control over their wages, money, or finances
  • Show signs of physical abuse or injury
  • Are accompanied everywhere by someone who speaks for them or allows others to speak for them when addressed directly
  • Appear to be fearful of or under the control of another person
  • Owe money to an employer or another person whom they feel bound to repay
  • Have health issues that have not been attended to
  • Describe moving or changing jobs suddenly and often
  • Are unfamiliar with the neighborhood where they live or work
  • Are not working in the job originally promised to them
  • Are traveling with minimal or inappropriate luggage/belongings
  • Lack identification, passport or other travel documents or do not have control over their documentation
  • Provide sexual services in a strip club, massage parlor, brothel or other locations and have a manager or pimp
  • Are a laborer, domestic servant or caretaker but never leave the home or workplace
  • Are unable to freely contact friends or family
  • Are not allowed to socialize or attend religious services
  • Have restricted freedom of movement
  • Are a juvenile engaged in a commercial sex act
  • Are threatened or afraid of being handed over to the authorities
  • Are forced to work under certain conditions
  • Work excessively long hours over long periods

Trafficked persons may be reluctant to report or seek services because they:

  • Do not know or understand that they are being exploited, or “trafficked”
  • Are threatened that if they tell anyone, they or their families will be hurt
  • Have complex relationships with their traffickers that involve deep levels of psychological conditioning based on fear or misplaced feelings of love
  • Are unfamiliar with their surroundings and do not know whom to trust
  • Do not know help exists, how to access it, or where to go for it
  • Are unfamiliar with the laws, cultures, and languages of the destination location or country
  • Fear retribution and forcible removal or deportation
  • Fear law enforcement and other authorities
  • Are addicted to drugs
  • Are in debt to their traffickers
  • Are sending much needed money back ‘home’ and worry about not being able to do this.

For a more comprehensive list of both general and specific indicators regarding children, sexual exploitation, trafficking for labor, and begging and petty crime, read the UN Office on Drugs and Crime publication, Human Trafficking Indicators.

Additional Resources:
–Human Trafficking of Children: Indicator Tool

Identifying Victims of Human Trafficking: What to Look for During a Medical Exam/Consultation

Guidance on Recognizing Activity that May be Associated with Human Smuggling and Human Trafficking

– Financial Red Flags

Understanding Victim Mindsets


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