Warning Signs of Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking is the crime of transporting people from one place to another for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Sadly, it is a rampant problem that affects thousands of victims each year. Everyone can play a part in detecting and stopping sex trafficking. Knowing what to look for – the warning signs of sex trafficking – can help you notice red flags and take immediate action.

Vulnerable People

In 2018, California was the number one state for human trafficking in the country. Any type of person can become a sex trafficking victim. However, studies suggest that certain people are more likely to be targeted by sex traffickers than others. Pay special attention if you encounter someone who fits any of these demographics, as they may be more at risk of being trafficked:

  • People of color
  • LGBTQ+ people
  • People with unstable living situations
  • Previous domestic violence or abuse victims
  • Child runaways
  • People with a history of juvenile delinquency
  • Undocumented immigrants
  • Impoverished people
  • Someone with a substance abuse issue
  • Someone with a family member who is addicted to drugs

Although young girls and boys are often thought of as primary targets, older adults can also become victims of sex trafficking. Many victims are groomed by their traffickers, such as students at a school being groomed by a teacher. If an unusual or suspicious situation involves high-risk individuals, look next for other signs to confirm sex trafficking.

Fear or Anxiety

If you speak to someone who you believe might be a victim of human or sex trafficking, look for signs that the individual is scared or anxious. If the person is glancing around, speaking quickly, seems reluctant to talk to you, fidgets or shows other signs of fear, this could be a sign of trafficking. This is especially true if the person shows signs of fear when law enforcement is mentioned. Many victims wish to stop participating in sex work or the events happening but are too scared to leave. They are likely being threatened by their traffickers or employers.

Physical Signs

Sex trafficking can take a physical toll on a victim. There may be signs such as physical injuries and bruises, malnourishment, dirty clothing, or an unkempt appearance. If the person gets secretive or reluctant to answer questions about physical injuries or health, this could be another sign that he or she is in trouble.

A Controlling Partner

Sex trafficking involves two parties – the person being trafficked and the person doing the trafficking. Look for someone who is acting as the individual’s parent, romantic partner, manager, employer or sponsor. This person might be controlling or demanding, such as not allowing the other person to speak to you or others alone. The person may also be closely monitoring the victim, including their conversations, movements and spending.

No Personal Information

If you are someone who is taking information from a possible sex trafficking victim, such as an employer at a company, it is suspicious if the individual has little to no personal information or possessions, such as no address, no names of local friends or relatives, and no bank account. This could be a sign that the individual has been trafficked from a different location or has been told not to give away any identifying information to strangers.

What to Do if You Suspect Sex Trafficking

If you believe someone is being trafficked for sexual exploitation, take immediate action. Call 911 if it is an emergency, such as someone in imminent fear of bodily harm. Otherwise, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 to speak to someone who can help. The hotline is available 24/7/365. You can also text the hotline at 233733. Finally, if the situation is not urgent or occurred more than 24 hours ago, you can submit a tip online anonymously. Reporting sex crimes can save lives.