How to Spot Human Trafficking in Your Community

Human trafficking often seems like a crime that happens elsewhere — maybe across the ocean or in a slum in a foreign country.

However, modern slavery is an American problem too. According to Polaris, hundreds of thousands of people are victims in the United States. California, Texas and Florida see the most cases, though exploitation occurs nationwide.

As Human Trafficking Awareness Month comes to an end, here’s how to spot someone who could be at-risk for trafficking.

Keep Your Eyes Open

Victims can often be hidden in full sight. As Innocents at Risk notes, they may use public transit, hospitals and domestic violence shelters, as well as churches and community centers.

As one campaign at Atlanta’s international airport shows, you may pass by a victim waiting in a security line or boarding a plane. Watch for suspicious activity like a man holding all the boarding passes for a group of women. Open eyes save lives.

Know the Warning Signs

People who are trafficked are often in rough shape. They seem to have been coached on how to respond to outsiders, and it may seem like someone else is controlling them.

Innocents at Risk advises looking out for people who are malnourished and have injuries that may have been the result of abuse. Trafficking victims often seem disoriented, wary of authority and strangers and lacking identification or substantial belongings. They also may work long hours and “rarely be allowed to come and go independently and may be accompanied by someone who controls their every movement.”

CNN adds that victims may have indications of ownership on them, like tattoos of barcodes or the word “Daddy.”

Forget the Stereotypes

People often think of modern slaves as foreign-born women illegally brought into the U.S. for prostitution. However, while most people who are trafficked are women, anyone of any gender, age or nationally can be a victim. These individuals are forced to work in a range of industries – not just sex work — including construction, hospitality and agriculture.

Perpetrators often target at-risk youth, grooming them to build their trust and then eventually exploiting them. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that one in seven runaways were subject to child sex trafficking.

LGBTQ youth, who make up 40 percent of the homeless youth population, are particularly vulnerable. They have less social supports and resources than their straight, cisgender counterparts.

Make the Call

If you suspect human trafficking, speak out. The National Human Trafficking Hotline gives victims, survivors and advocates support and resource.

They take phone calls at 1 (888) 373-7888 or by texting HELP or INFO to “BeFree” or 233733, or via an online form or email at help@humantraffickinghotline.org. All callers can be anonymous. 

Call 911 if a victim seems in immediate danger. Don’t attempt to confront the perpetrator. Do quietly intervene.

Photo Credit: Eric Ward/Unsplash

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