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.

The following possible indicators can help identify the signs of a human trafficking victim, and was adapted from information provided by the Polaris Project and its National Human Trafficking Resource Center:

Physical Indicators may include:

  • Excessive work-related injuries
  • Bruises and other evidence of sexual assault, beatings, physical restraint or confinement
  • Untreated sexually transmitted diseases
  • Untreated critical illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease, malnourishment, etc.
  • Severe psychological distress
  • Poor dental health
  • Under 18 and providing commercial sex acts

Other Important Signs may include:

  • Inability to speak to someone else alone, or to speak for themselves
  • Limited or nonexistent ability to speak English
  • Disoriented – lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or loss of sense of time, or inability to clarify where he/she is staying
  • Evidence of being controlled
  • Not in possession of passport or other forms of identification
  • Not in control of his/her own money, have no financial records, or bank account
  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, nervous/anxious
  • Unusually fearful or anxious behaviour after bringing-up law enforcement
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours; perhaps not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
  • Numerous inconsistencies in his/her story

A list of Trafficking Indicators is also available from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): www.dhs.gov/humantrafficking

Other Resources on How to Identify Human Trafficking Victims

For the General Public

For Law Enforcement Officers, Health Care Providers, and Social Service Providers:

For First Responders