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Running into Trafficking

Human trafficking is all around us, yet we pay little attention to it. The vast majority of people would not be able to identify the attitudes and behaviors of a trafficked victim- largely because the signs are so diverse. We dangerously assume that because we do not witness the common portrayal of trafficking (signs of physical abuse, a domineering partner, inappropriate attire, etc…), we do not come in contact with trafficking victims. Even if we do notice these indications, it is easy to brush them off as “a bad vibe” and move on with our day.

The evidence of trafficking can be nearly impossible to notice in some cases. There is an urgent need to diverge from the widely held view of trafficking and how we are so often dismissive in its face. 

There are 2 primary forms of trafficking in the United States- forced labor and sex trafficking. For the sake of this post and the prevalence of the category, we will focus on the latter issue.

Among the 2 recognized types of trafficking in the U.S., the percentage of those who are exploited for sexual purposes ranges from 40% to 90% depending on the source. These numbers are in no way an accurate representation of the true impact sex trafficking has on our country as our mitigation strategies are largely stunted by a lack of reporting.

That’s where you come in.

There is no definite checklist to determine whether someone is a victim, but there are a few key signs to look out for:

-lack of discussion capability (adhering to scripted conversation)

-poor physical and mental health

-dirty and/or seasonally inappropriate clothing

-tattoos and/or branding on the neck, lower back, and even in private areas 

-never seeing the person without their “partner”

-numerous untreated STDs (this is obviously not easy to detect, but medical professionals should be trained to raise red flags if the knowledge should manifest itself)

-being the companion of older men with whom they share an inappropriate relationship

-and many, many more

That list is overwhelming. Maybe your mind immediately thought of an encounter you’ve had with someone that matches this description. You’re probably asking yourself, “How can I be sure that person is being exploited, and what steps can I do to get them help?” Unfortunately, there is no definitive way to know whether or not someone is being trafficked, granted they do not explicitly tell you. However, if you genuinely feel like something is wrong, it is probably worth filing a report.

 Many people are hesitant to report trafficking because they do not want to involve themselves, deny their gut feeling, or even fear legal repercussions in the case of an accidental false report. In regard to that last point, unless there is proof that a trafficking report was intentionally made in bad faith, there should be no reason to hesitate the filing. You could very well save someone’s life.

So- how do you go about reporting such a case?

The National Human Trafficking Hotline number is a 24/7 service that can be reached at (888)-373-7888.

Now that you better understand the signs to look for, let’s discuss how an individual becomes a victim of trafficking.

An extremely common tactic is coercion. The trafficker is often a known and trusted individual of the victim. This allows them to pinpoint the vulnerabilities of the victim, as well as their hopes and dreams. Coercion can take on many forms, but there are 2 categories into which these acts may fall: 1) threatening to withhold something from the victim (affection, finances, safety, etc…) and 2) promising them a better future if they _________ (fill in the blank action) in return for the trafficker.

Often, these methods are alternatively practiced with periods of withholding followed by the fulfillment of promises and excessive appreciation. This form of manipulation is very effective at keeping the victim under their control. Victims are already targeted for having low self-esteem, and this abuse compounds that ideology. They may feel helpless and/or worthless without the exploiter. They are dependent on them for survival.

If you decide to intervene in this situation, be prepared for the victim to defend the trafficker. Many individuals experience “trauma bonding” when under the influence of their trafficker. They genuinely do not know how to live an independent lifestyle and the fear of the unknown may surpass the familiar fear they consistently experience. I mention this only to prepare you, not to deter you from addressing the situation. 

You can be the answer to someone’s silent cry of desperation. It’s about time we start listening.


“About Human Trafficking - United States Department of State.” U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State, 18 Jan. 2023,

“Myths & Facts.” National Human Trafficking Hotline, Accessed 9 Feb. 2024.

“Warning Signs of Human Trafficking.” Human Trafficking - Warning Signs of Human Trafficking, Accessed 9 Feb. 2024. 

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