When people hear the term ‘human trafficking,’ most individuals instantly think of sex trafficking; but the issue is much more complex. It involves the exploitation (using another for one’s personal benefit) of a person for labor, services, or commercial sex.
Human trafficking falls under the umbrella of ‘modern-day’ slavery because those who are trafficked are unable to leave the situation without being threatened, punished, or coerced. Traffickers use fear, violence, and shame as weapons to ensure their victims cannot leave, including threats against their families.
Who do Traffickers Target?
Although anyone can be at risk, traffickers typically target vulnerable populations, such as individuals experiencing homelessness, substance use, mental illness, unemployment, fear of deportation, criminal convictions, debt, or disabilities. In addition, youth and young adults are particularly at risk, especially if they are experiencing circumstances that make them even more vulnerable to exploitation.
In fact, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 1 in 6 youth who are runaways are likely to be victims of sex trafficking. It is important to note that those affected by or currently experiencing human trafficking are unlikely to identify as ‘victims’ and may not even realize or accept they are being exploited.
How do I Spot the Signs?
Individuals who are experiencing trafficking are likely to avoid eye contact, appear to be malnourished, and live or work in areas that have security measures in place such as cameras and blacked-out windows. They usually won’t speak to anyone alone, and when they do respond, it may sound rehearsed and scripted. Trafficked individuals are also likely to appear scared or anxious and may be very passive and obedient.
Other red flags that may suggest a person is experiencing human trafficking include signs of physical/sexual abuse and having their movements restricted, limited contact with family and friends, lack of or overly-sexualized clothing, relations with a much older partner, living with their boss, being paid very little or not at all, living in poor conditions, and having many people living in the same space. Lastly, any individual under 18 who is involved in sex work or prostitution is experiencing commercial sex trafficking, even if they don’t know or recognize it.
How do I (Get) Help?
If you or someone you know is experiencing human trafficking:
- Call 911 if there is any threat of immediate danger
- Contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center
The Trafficking Hotline can communicate via phone in more than 200 languages, as well as text in English and Spanish.
- Hotline: 1-888-373-7888
- Textline: text “Befree” or “233733”
If you suspect human trafficking is present in your community, you can file an anonymous online tip.
You can also turn to your healthcare provider for help. Healthcare providers screen every patient for human trafficking, just as they do with depression, and are trained to assist individuals experiencing human trafficking.
Take control today and find a healthcare provider near you!