Identifying Human Trafficking
Identifying victims of human trafficking can be difficult because traffickers often isolate victims from their families, communities, and the public. Victims are sometimes kept locked behind closed doors. Victims of human trafficking can also be hidden in plain sight. They may have a seemingly legal job at a hotel, factory, or restaurant, but are actually working for little or no pay. To a general observer, victims of human trafficking may look similar to other workers in their respective professions, but there may be some signs or indicators of abuse.
Recognizing the Signs
Are you or someone you know being trafficked?
Is human trafficking happening in your community?
Is the situation you may have encountered human trafficking?
The following is a list of potential red flags and indicators of human trafficking to help you recognize the signs. If you see any of these red flags, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 for specialized victim services referrals or to report the situation. Click here to learn more about reporting potential human trafficking situations.
The presence of these red flags is an indication that further assessment may be necessary to identify a potential human trafficking situation. This list is not exhaustive and represents only a selection of possible indicators. Also, the red flags in this list may not be present in all trafficking cases and are not cumulative. Indicators reference conditions a potential victim might exhibit.
Common Work and Living Conditions:
- Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
- Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
- Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
- Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
- Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
- Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
- Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
- High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)
Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior:
- Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
- Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
- Avoids eye contact
Poor Physical Health:
- Lacks medical care and/or is denied medical services by employer
- Appears malnourished or shows signs of repeated exposure to harmful chemicals
- Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
Lack of Control:
- Has few or no personal possessions
- Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
- Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
- Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)
- Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
- Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or of what city he/she is in
- Loss of sense of time
- Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story
Note: According to federal law, any minor under the age of 18 engaging in commercial sex is a victim of sex trafficking, regardless of the presence of force, fraud, or coercion.
If you believe you are a victim of human trafficking or may have information about a potential trafficking situation, please contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 911.
Additional Resources on How to Identify Human Trafficking Victims
For the General Public
- Identify and Assist a Trafficking Victim (US Department of State) Website: http://www.state.gov/g/tip/id/index.htm
- Recognizing the Signs of Human Trafficking (Polaris Project) Website: http://www.polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/recognizing-the-signs
For Law Enforcement Officers, Health Care Providers, and Social Service Providers:
- Rescue and Restore Campaign Tool Kits (Office of Refugee Resettlement) Website: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr/resource/rescue-restore-campaign-tool-kits
For First Responders
- Human Trafficking Indicator Cards (U.S. Department of Homeland Security) Website: