Is It Human Trafficking?

Troubled teenagers

It can be difficult to discern if human trafficking is taking place from a legal standpoint. The following tips can be used to help assess a situation and determine if trafficking is occurring according to federal law. At a minimum, one of the following elements must be present to establish a potential human trafficking situation.

The definition of human trafficking consists of three core elements:

  1. The act of trafficking, which means the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons
  2. The means of trafficking, which includes threat or use of force, deception, coercion, abuse of power, or position of vulnerability
  3. The purpose of trafficking, which is always exploitation (in the words of the United Nations Trafficking Protocol, Article 3, "exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs”)

Recognizing the Signs of Human Trafficking

Are you, or is someone you know, being trafficked? Is human trafficking happening in your own community? Have you seen or encountered human trafficking in your day-to-day life? While the following signs are not an exhaustive list, they are red flags that can alert you to the fact that you or someone you have observed is being trafficked:

Work and/or Living Conditions

  • Person is not free to leave or come and go as she/he wishes
  • Multiple people living in a cramped space
  • Working excessively long and/or unusual hours for little or no pay
  • Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of her/his work
  • High security measures are present in work and/or living locations (such as opaque or boarded-up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, and so forth)
  • Signs of physical abuse, such as burn marks, bruises, or cuts

In School

  • Unexplained absences from class
  • Student appears less appropriately dressed than she/he did previously
  • Sexualized behavior
  • Overly tired in class
  • Withdrawn, depressed, distracted, or checked-out
  • Bragging about making or having lots of money
  • Displaying expensive clothes, accessories, or shoes
  • New tattoo (often used by pimps as a way to brand victims; a tattoo of a name, symbol of money, or barcode could indicate trafficking)
  • Older boyfriend or new friends with a different lifestyle
  • Talking about wild parties or invites other students to attend parties
  • Showing signs of gang affiliation, such as a preference for specific colors or notebook doodles of gang symbols

Lack of Control in Personal Interactions

  • Not in control of her/his own money; no financial records or bank account
  • Employer is holding identity documents, such as ID or passport
  • Answers and conversations appear to be scripted or rehearsed
  • Not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)

Note: According to federal law, any minor under the age of 18 engaging in commercial sex is a victim of sex trafficking, regardless of the presence of force, fraud, or coercion.