Know What to Look For: The Signs of Trafficking

In the spirit of January being Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month, I thought we should discuss some of the signs of trafficking. As a society we tend to have a Hollywood image of trafficking victims, and it can cloud our perception of actual trafficking if we ever come in contact with it. Being educated on the signs of trafficking can be the difference between overlooking slavery or helping a victim find freedom.

Victims may display very few of these signs, or none at all. However, these are the most common indicators of trafficking:

Physical Signs

  • Appears malnourished
  • Shows signs of physical abuse (bruises, scratches, burns, etc.)
  • Shows signs of substance abuse
  • Accompanied by someone with much better appearance / more appropriately dressed
  • Poor medical or dental health

Psychological Signs

  • Avoids eye contact
  • Diverts conversation away from focusing on them
  • Anxious, depressed, or paranoid
  • Fearful of law enforcement
  • Conversation seems scripted / inconsistencies in stories

Other Signs

  • Extremely long work hours / very few breaks
  • No control over personal identification documents (driver’s license, passport, etc.)
  • Frequent mention of a “boyfriend” or “daddy” (i.e. “my boyfriend/daddy brought me here”)
  • Limited knowledge of whereabouts
  • Limited (or no) personal belongings

If you are ever in a situation in which you expect trafficking, there are actions to safely take in order to minimize risk to yourself or the suspected victim. In any situation, it is most likely best to contact law enforcement or an anti-trafficking organization. There is no way to predict the way a trafficker may respond should you attempt to rescue a victim, so to maximize the chance for safe exit, take one of the following actions:

Take Action

  • National Human Trafficking Resource Center
    • You can call their 24/7 phone number:
      •  1 (888) 373-7888
    • Or text their SMS number:
      • 233733 (Text “HELP” or “INFO”)
  • For urgent situations, contact local law enforcement
    • 911
  • Contact someone through

The more our society is educated on these indicators and ways to report, the more likely victims are to find freedom.


Abby Shrewsbury

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  • A21
  • The Polaris Project
  • CNN
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • Human Trafficking Hotline

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