How to Identify Trafficking and Indicators of Exploitation

The locations and settings where trafficking occurs do not always appear suspicious. For instance, trafficking could be occurring at places frequently visited by the public such as restaurants or hotels.
It is important to remember that the key indicators of this crime may not be in the setting itself, but in the conditions and circumstances of the individual being exploited.
It is not possible to determine a situation of human trafficking based upon a single indicator.
Below is a list of indicators – or ‘red flags’ – to look for. A case of human trafficking usually exhibits more than one, but not all, of the following indicators:

  • Inconsistencies in their story (where they live, where they are from, etc.);
  • No access to personal documents or identification;
  • No access to a bank account or any other money/financial resources;
  • Not allowed to contact friends or family;
  • Not allowed to leave a living or working situation unless monitored;
  • Signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, malnourishment, or torture;
  • Not allowed to speak for themselves – a 3rd party speaks or translates for the individual.

Direct indicators:

  • Unexplained physical injury (scars, bruising, broken bones, etc..) or signs of abuse;
  • Signs that threats have been made or carried out;
  • Suspect false work contract;
  • Movement and activities of a person appear to be closely controlled or monitored;
  • A person who works excessive hours for little or no money;
  • A person who works excessive hours and is fearful of discussing working and living conditions or is unaware that certain unsafe conditions are unlawful;
  • A person who has little or no idea where they are geographically located and is always transported to and from the work-site;
  • An able-bodied person who apparently never leaves home unless escorted;
  • A person who is fearful of discussing their relationship to a person who appears to have physical control over them;
  • A child (under 18 years of age) used in commercial sexual activities;
  • A child working excessive hours or in dangerous conditions;
  • A foreign national adult or a child who is not in possession of identifying documents such as a passport;
  • Any indication of slavery or being held in captivity.

If any of these indicators are present, further inquiry should be made to determine a situation of human trafficking.

A crucial aspect of recognizing the crime is in discerning the elements of human trafficking from the apparently "normal" behaviors that disguise it. The more complicated cases appear to be unattached to any criminal behavior. Therefore, the more training, education, and experience we all have, the less likely a case of human trafficking will go undetected or ignored.

Learn about the dangers of human trafficking.

No community is immune. People are exploited through false promises, lies and deception. Anyone can be a victim.

It is not possible to determine a situation of human trafficking based upon any single indicator. The most complicated cases of trafficking had much of a very “normal” appearance, it’s well hidden and disguised with typical behaviors.

“This website was funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions
stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State”.