Recognizing Victims of Trafficking

The world can be a scary place. We would bet that a large portion of us in some form or another have encountered someone being trafficked or groomed without even realizing it. After all, a trafficking victim doesn’t usually have the opportunity to just come right out and announce it.

 “Hi! I’m Jessica. I love Riverdale and pumpkin ice cream and I’m a victim of trafficking.”

 So what is it?

Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery. Victims are forced or coerced for purposes of commercial sex, debt bondage, or involuntary labor.” (, DHHS,  ) Victims can be of any age, gender, or race; everyone is affected.

It’s crazy how such evil can lurk so close to the surface of everyday happenings. We are all living in the comforts of our own oblivious reality and it’s time we bust out. We need to open our eyes and see what it happening around us. We need to take action and help these victims. And damn it, we need to stop being so selfish and turning a blind eye. We are so exhausted with the “not my problem” mentality. These victims are so often hidden right in front of us. The Department of Health and Human Services has identified some common situations where human trafficking may occur.

  • Prostitution and escort services
  • Pornography, stripping, or exotic dancing
  • Massage parlors
  • Sexual services publicized on the Internet or in newspapers
  • Agricultural or ranch work
  • Factory work or sweatshops
  • Businesses like hotels, nail salons or home-cleaning services
  • Domestic labor (cleaning, childcare, eldercare, etc. within a home)
  • Restaurants, bars, or cantinas
  • Begging, street peddling, or door to-door


There are a few indicators that alert those around us that someone is a victim of human trafficking. Trust your gut. If you feel that something isn't quite right, take the time to analyze the situation before shrugging it off as normal. According to the US Department of State some indicators that might warrant a red flag are:

  • Living with their employer
  • Poor living conditions
  • Multiple  people in a cramped space (such as multiple roommates in a small apartment)
  • Working without pay or paid very little
  • Answers appear to be scripted and rehearsed
  • Nervousness around a person you assumed to be a friend or relative 
  • Avoiding answering questions or looking to someone else for the answer

More obvious indicators include

  • An Employer who is holding identity documents
  • Signs of physical abuse
  • Submissive or fearful behavior
  • Under 18 years old and in prostitution

It’s important to remember to speak privately with a possible victim. Many times victims of trafficking are afraid to be honest about their situation and aren’t able to speak about what is happening around others for fear of their safety. Along with physical safety, victims are also fearful of being deported back to their country of origin or jailed for prostitution (many times while the trafficker or pimp lives free.) Because of this, victims may also be confused where their loyalties lie and distrust authority figures like police officers.

If you think you know of someone who is being trafficked, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to 233-733. If the situation is more urgent then 911 should be the first number you dial.