Human trafficking is not a problem you probably hear much about, but it is indeed a real and troubling issue in our society. While it’s difficult to determine exact numbers as so many cases go undetected, more than 40.3 million cases of human trafficking have been reported worldwide and more than 63,000 cases in the United States.*
Human trafficking is described as a form of modern-day slavery that involves illegally exploiting individuals through the use of force, fraud or coercion to trap them into labor or sexual exploitation.
It is probably happening in your community and it may even involve someone you know. Contrary to what you may think, traffickers often target people with whom they already have a relationship. It could be an employer, friend or a romantic partner, including spouses.
Sometimes it even involves family members, including parents.
Who is most vulnerable?
While anyone can be a victim, human traffickers often target people who are most vulnerable. This includes people with psychological, emotional and economic challenges as well as victims of natural disasters or political unrest. Women and girls make up the majority of enslaved victims at 71% and men and boys make up 29% of victims.* More than half involve children who become victims between the ages of 12 to 14 years old.* People of color and LGBTQ+ people are also more likely to be trafficked than other demographic groups.*
Sometimes it can be difficult to identify a human trafficker because they are masters at appearing to be your friend and luring people in with gifts and money and big promises of things like everlasting romantic love, amazing job opportunities and huge incomes.
You can help prevent yourself and others from being victims of human trafficking by being aware of some of the behavioral warning signs exhibited by traffickers as well as red flags that may indicate a friend or acquaintance may be a victim of trafficking.
Warning signs that a friend may be a victim of trafficking
- Physical abuse such as burn marks, bruises or cuts
- Unexplained absences from school
- Overly focused on sexual behaviors
- Appears more tired than normal
- Seems withdrawn, depressed or distracted
- Brags about having lots of money
- Changes in how they dress such as more expensive clothes and accessories
- New tattoo (often used by pimps to brand victims)
- Older boyfriend
- Talks about wild parties of invites other friends or students to attend
- Shows signs of gang affiliation
- Uses scripted or rehearsed responses in social situations
- Recruited for an opportunity that seems too good to be true and/or requires them to move far away
- Develops a very close relationship with someone they know solely on social media
Warning signs or behaviors that an individual may be a human trafficker
- Jealous, controlling and violent
- Significantly older than their female companion
- Promises things that seem too good to be true
- Encourages their victims to engage in illegal activities to achieve their goals and dreams
- Buys expensive gifts or owns expensive items
- Is vague about his/her profession
- Pushy or demanding about sex
- Encourages inappropriate sexual behavior
- Makes the victim feel responsible for his/her financial stability. Very open about financial matters.
What to do if you suspect human trafficking
If you suspect a friend, acquaintance or employer is human trafficking or you are concerned a friend may be a victim of human trafficking, you can make a good choice and help by calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline 24/7 at 888-373-7888 or text them at 233733. All reports are confidential and you may remain anonymous.
* “Forced Labor, Modern Slavery, and Human Trafficking.” International Labor Organization. Accessed July 31, 2019. “Monitoring Target 16.2 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.” United Nations Office on Drug and Crime. Accessed July 31, 2018. https://www.unodc.org/documents/research/UNODC-DNR_research_brief.pdf ︎
* “Trafficking and Slavery Fact Sheet.” Free the Slaves. Accessed July 31, 2019. https://www.freetheslaves.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Trafficking-ans-Slavery- Fact-Sheet-April-2018.pdf
* “Human Trafficking Within and Into The United States: A Review of the Literature.” Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Accessed July 31, 2019, https://aspe.hhs.gov/report/human-trafficking-and-within-united-states-review- literature#Trafficking.
* Polaris website: https://polarisproject.org/myths-facts-and-statistics/