Signs that Someone Might Be a Victim of Trafficking

May 26, 2011

Before I share some of the signs that someone might be a trafficking victim, I wanted to quickly highlight two vulnerable populations here in the US:

– Kids who are newly emancipated from the foster care system. I call them kids because I’m 43 years old, but indeed they are legally adults. They are now parentless and quite possibly without a support network.
– Kids who have run away for whatever reason. Sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, chemical dependency. They are out on their own trying to piece together a way to find food and shelter.

Abroad, from everything I’ve read, poverty is probably the main factor that makes people vulnerable to trafficking. Imagine a life where you’re scraping by to feed your family. Imagine a culture where it’s common to send your children to the city to work because of a lack of opportunity in your own community. This is a common practice in many areas. Imagine this life on the margins complicated by an illness or by famine. Now, imagine someone coming into your village and offering to give your daughter a great job in the city, where they will take care of her lodging and food. And they’re offering an education, which is something that you would never be able to afford. I’ve read countless stories of this happening. Traffickers take victims away from their base of support. They often take them into another country- often to an area where people speak a different language. They threaten to hurt your family. They use violence to intimidate. They use rape to intimidate. They take your passport. They tell you that there is no one to help you.

There are so many people here in the US being trafficked. Some are US citizens, but most are from abroad. They may be laborers on a farm. They may be working in the kitchen at a restaurant you frequent. They may be working in a brothel- which may look like a massage parlor or spa. They may be working at the strip club up the street. They may work for the family next door as a nanny or a house keeper.

With that, how do you learn to see them? Here are some signs, which I’ve edited from the Polaris Project website:

  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
  • High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)
  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Lacks health care
  • Appears malnourished
  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)
  • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
  • Loss of sense of time
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story

The only item I have to add here is that often trafficking victims are moved around quite a bit.  So, he or she may list five places that they’ve lived in the last year.

Thanks for reading.

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One Response to “Signs that Someone Might Be a Victim of Trafficking”


  1. Thanks for posting this and raising awareness about this terrible reality.

    Help us spread awareness by joining our photo petition against sex trafficking and liking our blog and Facebook page. Please visit voicesofthebroken.org for more details.

    Thanks so much!


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