How Can I Recognize Human Trafficking Victims?
Because trafficking in persons is usually an
“underground” crime, it can be difficult for law-enforcement personnel, the public, or service providers to readily
identify a trafficking victim and/or a trafficking scenario.
There have been cases of victims escaping and
reporting the situation to the police. However, many are physically unable to leave their work sites without an
escort and are not free to contact family, friends, or members of the public.
There are many factors that can tip off the
general public, law enforcement personnel, or service organizations that a trafficking scenario may be taking place
How Can I
Recognize Trafficking Victims?
Victims of sex trafficking are often found in the streets or
working in establishments that offer commercial sex acts, e.g., brothels, strip clubs, pornography production
houses. Such establishments may operate under the guise of:
||Very young prostitutes
People forced into indentured servitude can be found
||Sweatshops (where abusive labor
standards are present);
||Commercial agricultural situations
(fields, processing plants, canneries)
||Domestic situations (maids,
||Construction sites (particularly if
public access is denied); and
||Restaurant and custodial work
How Do People Get Trapped Into Sex or Labor Trafficking?
No one signs up to become a slave. Traffickers
frequently recruit victims through fraudulent advertisements promising legitimate jobs as hostesses, domestics, or
work in the agricultural industry. Trafficking victims of all kinds come from rural, suburban, and urban
There are tell-tale signs when commercial
establishments are holding people against their will.
How Can I Recognize Trafficking Victims?
Visible Indicators of Human
Heavy security at the commercial establishment
including barred windows, locked doors, isolated location, electronic surveillance. Women are never seen leaving
the premises unless escorted.
Victims live at the same premises as the
brothel or work site or are driven between quarters and “work” by a guard. For labor trafficking, victims are often
prohibited from leaving the work site, which may look like a guarded compound from the outside.
Victims are kept under surveillance when taken
to a doctor, hospital or clinic for treatment; trafficker may act as a translator.
High foot traffic especially for brothels
where there may be trafficked women indicated often by a stream of men arriving and leaving the premises.
Trafficking victims are kept in bondage through a combination of fear, intimidation, abuse, and psychological
controls. While each victim will have a different experience, they share common threads that may signify a life of
Trafficking victims live a life marked by
abuse, betrayal of their basic human rights, and control under their trafficker. The following indicators in and of
themselves may not be enough to meet the legal standard for trafficking, but they indicate that a victim is
controlled by someone else and, accordingly, the situation should be further investigated.
How Can I
Recognize Trafficking Victims?
What Is the Profile of a Human Trafficking Victim?
Most trafficking victims will not readily
volunteer information about their status because of fear and abuse they’ve suffered at the hands of their
trafficker. They may also be reluctant to come forward with information from despair, discouragement, and a sense
that there are no viable options to escape their situation. Even if pressed, they may not identify themselves as
someone held in bondage for fear of retribution to themselves or family members. However, there are indicators that
often point to a person held in a slavery condition. They include:
Health Characteristics of a Trafficked Person.
Trafficked individuals may be treated as disposable possessions without much attention given to their mental or
physical health. Accordingly, some of the health problems that may be evident in a victim include:
||Malnutrition, dehydration or poor
||Sexually transmitted diseases
||Signs of rape or sexual abuse
||Bruising, broken bones, or other
signs of untreated medical problems
||Critical illnesses including
diabetes, cancer or heart disease; and Post-traumatic stress or psychological disorders
Red flags should go up for police or aid workers who
notice any of the following during an intake. The individual:
Does not hold his/her
own identity or travel documents;
Suffers from verbal or
psychological abuse designed to intimidate, degrade and frighten the individual;
Has a trafficker or
pimp who controls all the money, victim will have very little or no pocket money;
and Is extremely
nervous, especially if their “translator” (who may be their trafficker) is present during an
Coupled with any of the above, another indicator that a person may be held against their will is if the
individual is a foreigner, unable to speak the language in the country where they reside or
While there is no set formula to determine
whether or not a person has been trafficked, the following list of questions can serve as a guideline to determine
if trafficking elements are present in a given situation.
Human Trafficking Screening Questions:
||Is the person free to leave the
||Is the person physically, sexually
or psychologically abused?
||Does the person have a passport or
valid I.D. card and is he/she in possession of such documents?
||What is the pay and conditions of
||Does the person live at home or
at/near the work site?
||How did the individual arrive to
this destination if the suspected victim is a foreign national?
||Has the person or a family member
of this person been threatened?
||Does the person fear that something
bad will happen to him or her, or to a family member, if he/she leaves the job?
Anyone can report suspected trafficking cases. If the victim is under 18, U.S.
professionals who work in law enforcement, healthcare, social care, mental health, and education are mandated to
report such cases.
Through a grass-roots, community-wide effort
and public awareness campaign, more professionals on the front line can readily identify the trafficking victim and
have him/her treated accordingly.
How To Report a Suspected Trafficking Case
If you suspect that a person is a trafficking
victim, there are a number of ways to report the suspected case and to help the individual receive appropriate care
Help for victims of Human Trafficking In the
Call the Health and Human Services-sponsored,
toll-free line at
. This hotline will help you determine if you have
encountered victims of human trafficking, will identify local resources available in your community to help
victims, and will help you coordinate with local social service organizations.
Contact your state’s Attorney General’s victim/witness coordinator.
Contact your local FBI.
Additional information on
reporting suspected cases within the U.S. can be accessed through: http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/ceos/trafficking.html
For countries outside the United States:
1. Call the national or local human
trafficking hotline, if applicable.
2. If the suspected human trafficked victim is
foreign, contact their embassy.
3. If local law enforcement is reliable, contact local
The Road To Recovery for
Human Trafficking Victims
victims have been through extensive personal hardships that may include isolation from family members and severed
relationships from their home community, while having suffered from physical abuse and medical problems from
months– or often years in slavery.
Their road to recovery is generally intense and requires considerable aftercare on several levels.
Once identified, a trafficked individual may require any or all of the following
||Housing, food and clothing
||Vocational or educational training;
As modern-day slavery continues, the best way to combat this heinous practice is to gather the best resources from
police, service providers, medical professionals, lawmakers, web sites like
these and help inform the general public. Help educate your entire extended family about the
dangers of human trafficking and teach the children in your family how to avoid falling prey to human
(Sources: Donna Hughes, ECPAT USA & IOFA
2003, Vital Voices and the
Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence)