So many people ask: "How do you spot a trafficking victim?"

Good question.

Many victims will not self-identify. Many victims don't know they're victims of slavery. They know they're being abused, taken advantage of, exploited and starved, but they wouldn't know to call their circumstance "slavery" or "trafficking". Add to that the psychological terror tactics traffickers employ to keep their slaves in silence, as well as the illusion that "anywhere is better than where I came from", and you have a good recipe for Hiding In Plain Sight.

So just how does one go about identifying a victim? If victims can't speak, and certainly perpetrators won't speak… how does the average person watch out for signs of trafficking?

Nearly 100% of trafficking is ethnically-centered. Traffickers moving Asian women will remain within those cultures, organized crime purchasing and using Eastern European girls and boys will keep those cultures together, and so on. This brings a potentially dangerous dynamic in combating slavery. If one suspects slavery in an area filled with Hispanics, if not handled well it could come off that a witch hunt is being organized against ALL Hispanics.

 Monty_python_witch Fear, lack of knowledge, prejudices and other factors can result in false allegations, ruined lives and… if anyone is familiar with Monty Python… rather bizarre patterns of logic. (The man who was turned into a newt did get better after all…)

No one wants anyone rushing out and finding slaves under every rock or busting up brothels. It breeds fear, more danger to victims, and more danger to communities. However, there are ways to detect trafficking in your area without walking off the deep end. The Not For Sale Campaign has set up a fabulous website with pointers and ideas on how to spot red flags associated with trafficking and the proper way to report your concerns. No need to balance a girl with a duck whatsoever. Check it out:


Some indicators raise a red flag that a person may be a victim of human trafficking. Take notice in situations where a person

  • Appears to be under someone else's control.
  • Appears to be under surveillance at all times.
  • All or most contacts with family, friends, and professionals are controlled and monitored.
  • Is rarely alone.
  • Is unable to move to a new location or leave their job.
  • Does not manage their own money or their money is largely controlled by someone else.
  • Is not in control of their own identification or travel documents.
  • Works excessive hours.
  • Is unpaid for their work or paid very little.
  • Lives with multiple people in a very cramped space.
  • Lives with their employer.
  • Has no English language skills or knowledge of the local community.
  • Appears to have little privacy.
  • Appears to have visible injuries or scars, such as cuts, bruises, or burns.
  • May have injuries around the head, face, and mouth from being struck in the head or face.
  • Have untreated illnesses or infections, particularly sexually transmitted diseases.
  • May have generally poor health and/or diseases associated with unsanitary living conditions.
  • Exhibits submissive behavior or fearful behavior in the presence of others.
  • Exhibits emotional distress such as depression, anxiety, manifestations of trauma, self-inflicted injuries or suicide attempts.
  • Engages in prostitution or lives in a brothel.
  • Is sexually exploited in strip clubs, massage parlors, pornography.
  • Is under the age of 18, in prostitution, or hanging around adult entertainment businesses such as strip clubs, massage parlors, adult book/video stores, etc.

Please note:
This advice applies to you if you are a professional in law enforcement, social services, health care, etc. It is important to talk to potential victims in a safe and confidential environment. If the victim is accompanied by someone who seems to have control over them, discretely attempt to separate the person from the individual accompanying him/her, since this person could be the trafficker. Enlist the help of a staff member or another professional who speaks the potential victim's language and understands his or her culture. Do not collect more information than you need! In depth interviews with the potential victim should be conducted by mental health professionals, law enforcement professionals or legal experts. Multiple interviews may confuse and/or re-traumatize victims and may put you, as a service provider, at risk of being subpoenaed as a witness.

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