Red Flags for Human Trafficking

Recognizing and reporting red flags for human trafficking may help save lives. Human traffickers target men, women, and children. The U.S. Department of State estimates there are 24.9 million human trafficking victims around the world at any given time. 

What is Human Trafficking?

Essentially modern slavery, human trafficking involves compelling another person or people to perform labor or engage in commercial sex. Human traffickers may use force, coercion, or fraud to take advantage of their victims. For instance, a human trafficker may threaten to harm a victim or the victim’s family if he or she does not perform the labor or sex acts as instructed. Even if they want out of the trafficking situation, many victims do not come forward to ask or accept help for fear of law enforcement or their traffickers, or due to language barriers. Knowing that human trafficking exists and understanding the signs to watch out for may help prevent victims from getting seriously injured or killed.

Physical Health-Related Signs

Some signs that a person has fallen victim to human trafficking may present in his or her physical health. For example, indications of repeated chemical exposure, malnourishment, physical or sexual abuse, or physical restraint or confinement may signal a human trafficking situation. 

Mental Health and Behavior-Related Signs

In some cases, mental health issues or abnormal behavior may raise red flags for human trafficking. Appearing depressed, submissive, nervous, paranoid, anxious, fearful, or tense may point to human trafficking. Those involved in such situations may also show signs such as avoiding eye contact or displaying unusually anxious or fearful behavior at the mention of law enforcement.

Work and Living Condition-Related Signs

People’s working and living conditions may also raise concerns for human trafficking situations. Some of the most common of these red flags include the following:

  • Working in the commercial sex industry and having a manager or pimp
  • Getting recruited to work using false promises about the conditions or nature of the work
  • Receiving no or little pay or only getting paid through tips
  • Lacking the freedom to come and go

People owing large debts to their employers and lacking the ability to pay them off, as well as having high-security measures at work or their residences, may also point to the possibility of human trafficking.

How Should People Handle Suspected Human Trafficking?

Handling suspected human trafficking requires delicacy as it may quickly turn into a life-or-death situation. In cases when people believe they identified someone in a human trafficking situation, they should immediately notify law enforcement. If they attempt a rescue on their own and the trafficker learns of their plan, the trafficker could react erratically or unexpectedly. Therefore, people should refrain from trying to confront suspected traffickers or aid victims alone.

In non-emergency situations, people who suspect they identified a human trafficking victim should call the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The hotline operates 24-hours and takes down tips and connects callers with anti-trafficking services in their areas. For urgent situations, such as when the victim’s life is in danger, people should call 911 emergency and report their concerns to law enforcement.

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