Barriers that prevent identification

Individuals who are at risk of trafficking or who have experienced trafficking are often not recognized for various reasons. These barriers to identification fall into two categories: individual-related and provider-related.

Provider Related Barriers

  • Lacks knowledge about human trafficking
  • “Checks off boxes” without seeing the full situation
  • Inadequate understanding of laws
  • Fears violating HIPAA rules
  • Lacks trauma-informed care training
  • Does not believe it is their role to get involved
  • Lacks access to neutral, professional interpreters
  • Thinks that asking will be time-consuming or too complex
  • Feels the individual is unresponsive or hostile to questioning
  • Lacks information about referral options
  • Attributes behavior(s) to harmful cultural stereotypes
  • Has preconceived notions of how an individual who has experienced trafficking will behave or look

Individual Related Barriers

  • Lacks awareness that what they are experiencing is trafficking
  • Lacks understanding of victim and legal rights
  • Lacks identification and other records
  • Has a language barrier
  • Fears deportation or law enforcement
  • Fears that reporting could lead to being returned to an abusive home, jail, or foster care placement
  • Feels complicit in an illegal act
  • Fears that traffickers will cause harm to self, family, or loved ones
  • Has limited literacy and education that hinders ability to communicate
  • Has experienced trauma bonding with the trafficker or other victims
  • Distrusts the provider or those in authority
  • Feels hopeless and helpless
  • Feels shame or guilt

For more information on the barriers that prevent identification, visit National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Center

Is it an indicator of trafficking?

A variety of flags can be indicators of trafficking. The examples listed are not definitive, and not every individual will present the same flags. Additionally, seeing one or two indicators doesn’t necessarily mean that something is happening to you, it simply lets you know that you should probably step back and take another look at the situation.

How to Protect Yourself

Online Exploitation

Requests for pics or videos that are private.

One sided conversations, like someone not sharing about themselves while you have been very open.

Someone threatening you or blackmailing you to do things – when someone does that with images or video of you, it’s called sextortion.

Labor Trafficking

Threats or abuse from employer

Unable to quit your job or go home

Withholding payment, not allowed to see or be in control of your paychecks or taking money out of your paycheck

Sex Trafficking

Asking you to keep secrets or telling you not to tell anyone what they did to you or what they had you do for them

Keeping you isolated away from your friends and family

Manipulating you with strings attached, like making you do sexual acts in return for something

Adapted from Love146

How to Advocate for Others

Physical – notable changes in health or appearance

Untreated or undertreated workplace injuries

Physical impacts of long-term trauma including chronic illnesses

Shows signs of physical trauma such as bruises, black eyes, cigarette burns, or broken bones

Has repeated or concerning testing or treatment for pregnancies or STIs

Has health problems or complaints related to poor nutrition or irregular access to meals

Substance use impacts their health or interferes with their ability to function

Reports multiple sexual assaults perpetrated by non-family members

Relies on emergency or temporary resources to meet basic needs

Not allowed to sleep regularly or in a safe place

Behavioral – exhibits signs of trauma exposure

Youth runs away frequently or leaves their residence for extended periods of time (days, weeks)

Has unhealthy or inappropriate relationships including youth in a romantic relationship with an adult

Explicit photos are posted on the internet or stored on their phone

Meets with contacts they developed over the internet, including sex partners or significant others

Appears on edge, preoccupied with safety, or hypervigilant

Engages in self-destructive, aggressive, or risk-taking behaviors

Forced to give earned money to another person

Avoids interaction or gives misleading or vague information about their age, whereabouts, residence or relationships

Unaware of location, age or time

Environmental – situation or activities that attribute to risk of exploitation

Engages in sexual activities that cause harm or place them at risk of victimization

Youth experiences housing or caregiving instability

Youth with current or past involvement with law enforcement, juvenile justice, social services, or foster system

Relationship and belongings are not consistent with their age or circumstances

In possession of material items inconsistent with the their access to money including gifts, transportation and money

Someone else controls contact with family or friends, creating social isolation

Living with non-relative who is significantly older

Living at work or in extremely overcrowded locations

Accompanied by overly controlling adult who prevents them from speaking freely

A secret phone or apps providing additional number

Vulnerable Populations

While anyone can be affected by trafficking, including both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals, there are some populations at a higher risk that you may encounter in your work. Factors that lead to a disproportionate risk of trafficking include: 1) history of abuse and neglect, 2) social disconnection, and 3) social stigma and exclusion.

By understanding how social determinants of health are connected to populations at the highest risk, you can better identify and respond to those affected by and at risk of trafficking. Examples of populations that may be more likely to experience these circumstances and be at greater risk of trafficking include:

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Recognizing key indicators of human trafficking is the first step in identifying victims and can help save a life.

Not all indicators listed above are present in every human trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators is not necessarily proof of human trafficking.

Check out these self-assessment cards, in multiple languages, from Advocates for Human Rights.

Download the Labor Trafficking Self-Assessment Cards

Languages include: English, Arabic, French, Indonesian, Khmer, Malay, Mandarin, Spanish, Swahili, and Vietnamese.