How to spot human trafficking

Share this page on:

Learn More

    • Human Trafficking Indicators
    • Questions to Ask
    • Where to Get Help

Everyone has the potential to discover a human trafficking situation. While the victims may sometimes be kept behind locked doors, they are often hidden right in front of us at, for example, construction sites, restaurants, elder care centers, nail salons, agricultural fields, and hotels. Traffickers’ use of coercion – such as threats of deportation and harm to the victim or their family members – is so powerful that even if you reach out to victims, they may be too fearful to accept your help. Knowing indicators of human trafficking and some follow up questions will help you act on your gut feeling that something is wrong and report it.

Human Trafficking Indicators

While not an exhaustive list, these are some key red flags that could alert you to a potential trafficking situation that should be reported:

  • Living with employer
  • Poor living conditions
  • Multiple people in cramped space
  • Inability to speak to individual alone
  • Answers appear to be scripted and rehearsed
  • Employer is holding identity documents
  • Signs of physical abuse
  • Submissive or fearful
  • Unpaid or paid very little
  • Under 18 and in prostitution

Questions to Ask

Assuming you have the opportunity to speak with a potential victim privately and without jeopardizing the victim’s safety because the trafficker is watching, here are some sample questions to ask to follow up on the red flags you became alert to:

  • Can you leave your job if you want to?
  • Can you come and go as you please?
  • Have you been hurt or threatened if you tried to leave?
  • Has your family been threatened?
  • Do you live with your employer?
  • Where do you sleep and eat?
  • Are you in debt to your employer?
  • Do you have your passport/identification? Who has it?

Where to Get Help

If you believe you have identified someone still in the trafficking situation, alert law enforcement immediately at the numbers provided below. It may be unsafe to attempt to rescue a trafficking victim. You have no way of knowing how the trafficker may react and retaliate against the victim and you. If, however, you identify a victim who has escaped the trafficking situation, there are a number of organizations to whom the victim could be referred for help with shelter, medical care, legal assistance, and other critical services. In this case, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline described below.

911 Emergency

For urgent situations, notify local law enforcement immediately by calling 911. You may also want to alert the National Human Trafficking Hotline described below so that they can ensure response by law enforcement officials knowledgeable about human trafficking.

1-888-373-7888 National Human Trafficking Hotline

Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline, a national 24-hour, toll-free, multilingual anti-trafficking hotline. Call 1-888-373-7888 to report a tip; connect with anti-trafficking services in your area; or request training and technical assistance, general information, or specific anti-trafficking resources. The Hotline is equipped to handle calls from all regions of the United States from a wide range of callers including, but not limited to: potential trafficking victims, community members, law enforcement, medical professionals, legal professionals, service providers, researchers, students, and policymakers.

Human trafficking victims are often hiding in plain sight.

Posted January 13, 2018

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Every month should be. Because awareness leads to identification. Human trafficking is an insidious epidemic that occurs throughout the world. It occurs in our own backyards, and even our front yards, as trafficking victims are often hiding in plain sight.

Having spent years prosecuting cases of human trafficking and working with victims-turned survivors, my experience is consistent with relevant research: in many cases, victims can be identified. It requires us to know what they look like, and where to look.

Human trafficking victims can often be identified through excessive and burdensome labor conditions, or visibly strained or awkward interpersonal dynamics with their companions.

Whether it is a restaurant server who works extended hours and never seems to leave the building, a maid working for a family in a beautiful mansion who neighbors notice seems to live in the garage, or a young girl traveling with a much older man who does not appear to be a relative. There are red flags we can perceive if we are paying attention.

Failure to Recognize Trafficking Victims

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) is the primary legislation in the United States to address the insidious epidemic of human trafficking. Yet the primary challenge in accessing relief under the Act is identifying victims.

Trafficking victims are not identified because they are not recognized. In “Human trafficking: Improving victim identification and service provision,” (2011) Okech, et al note that even some members of the law enforcement community, if they are not trained to identify victims of human trafficking, may view victims as illegal immigrants.[i]

Farrell and Pfeffer (2014) state that an even more basic reason many people fail to recognize trafficking activity is because neither community members nor law enforcement can identify a crime they do not understand.[ii]

They explain that prioritization of law enforcement efforts starts with the community, because authorities are not inclined to focus on criminal activity that has not been identified. They quote one prosecutor as noting that stereotypical views of human trafficking as sex slaves shipped from overseas at gunpoint results in a failure to identify other cases that do not fit the stereotype.

Media portrayals are not always helpful in identifying trafficking victims, because they can inadvertently create stereotypes that many victims do not fit.

Misidentifying Trafficking Victims

Cunningham and Cromer (2016) note that the media portrays sex trafficking victims as children who are young, vulnerable, and innocent, while showcasing promiscuous, hardened youth as willful sex workers.[iii] They also note that acceptance of human trafficking myths contributes to perception of victim responsibility.

Labor trafficking cases also fly under the radar. Farrell and Pfeffer note that this can occur when authorities are focused on detecting the sex trafficking of minors. They also explain that identifying labor trafficking cases is complicated by victim unfamiliarity with the elements of the crime, resulting in an inability to accurately classify their employment situation. They give the example of one detective recognizing the challenge of separating exploitive labor practices from trafficking, noting that involuntary servitude does not require a victim to be chained in a basement.

Farrell and Pfeffer explain that another problem involves public lack of sympathy for labor trafficking victims, who are often undocumented adults, due to negative views on illegal immigration.

Reasons Trafficking Victims Do Not Come Forward

Obviously, it would be much easier to prosecute human trafficking if the victims came forward. But they don’t, for a variety of reasons.

Many trafficking victims do not come forward because they fear adverse consequences ranging from retaliation to deportation. Others are in love with their traffickers, having been seduced into the relationship with promises of security and marriage, only to realize that the trafficker´s romantic advances were not motivated by love, but by the love of money.

Okech, et al note that some research indicates that some victims fail to come forward due to the TVPA´s focus to use them as witnesses in law enforcement investigations, while others are unaware of the existence of human trafficking laws that acknowledge their status as victims. Still others fail to reveal their predicament out of fear of retaliation.

Farrell and Pfeffer report that some victims deny their victimization out of shame and embarrassment, not wanting to disclose things they have done under force or duress. They also observe that a victim´s failure to report can stem from the reluctance to return to a home or residential housing facility, which may motivate runaway minors to avoid contact with law enforcement.

Knowledge Is Power

Human trafficking requires knowing what to look for, where to look, and what to do with the information you see. Community awareness enables us to spot red flags, and provide support for survivors. Join the fight this month and every month as we strive to stamp out this insidious epidemic together.


[i] David Okech, Whitney Morreau, and Kathleen Benson, ”Human trafficking: Improving victim identification and service provision,” International Social Work 55, No. 4 (2011): 488-503.

[ii] Amy Farrell and Rebecca Pfeffer, ”Policing Human Trafficking: Cultural Blinders and Organizational Barriers,” The Annals of the American Academy, AAPSS, 653 (May, 2014): 46-64.

[iii] Katherine C. Cunningham and Lisa DeMarni Cromer, ”Attitudes About Human Trafficking: Individual Differences Related to Belief and Victim Blame,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 31, No. 2 (2016): 228-244 (231)(citing Polaris Project, 2006).

As of the UN’s last count, for every 800 people trafficked every year, only one is convicted, and an estimated 2.5 million people are in forced labor (including sexual exploitation) at any given time, even in America.

November 8, 2012

How to spot human trafficking

Landlords, neighbors have a unique vantage point

Human trafficking is the act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime). Although human trafficking has been going on for thousands of years, it was only made a federal crime in the United States in 2000 with the Passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). The most common cases involve commercial sex trafficking, and labor trafficking.

It happens in all areas, even luxury subdivisions or brand new apartments – it is not something that happens in the bowels of the ghetto, out of sight, no, in many cases, it is happening right in front of us.

Spotting human trafficking in your neighborhood

According to Rent Rite Directory, there are red flags to look out for, because human trafficking can happen to anyone, of any gender, nationality, age, and can happen anywhere. Whether you’re a landlord or a neighbor, look for these red flags:

  • Too many people living in one apartment unit
  • Abnormal amount of traffic to and from an apartment unit
  • Locks on doors and windows to keep people in, instead of out
  • Closely supervised tenants (restricted in movement)
  • People who are always with others who must speak for them, but do not appear to know each other very well
  • People who do not have access to their own personal documents
  • People who are not allowed to drive themselves anywhere
  • People who are picked up every day in large vehicles and who return at the same time every night
  • People who show signs of abuse, malnourishment or fearfulness

Detective Ric Clark of the Balch Springs Police Department notes that just asking the right questions and getting to know someone can help provide vital information. In the cases of labor trafficking he has witnessed, he says asking about where someone is from, their accents, their families, their jobs and sparking conversation can be a good starting off point. Please be advised that many victims of trafficking often do not consider themselves victims, or are terrified for the safety of themselves or their families, so you may not get a yes or no answer from them, if directly asked.

The tricky part, however, is that any licensed real estate professional is bound by Fair Housing Laws which protects civil rights in housing and prohibits housing providers from denying housing to anyone based on a person’s national origin, sex, race, religion, skin color, disability, or sexual orientation. Asking questions as the Detective prompts landlords to do could lead to large fines if it is determined that a potential renter or buyer was discriminated against, so professionals have to walk a fine line, making the red flags all the more important to look out for.

Landlords and neighbors should immediately call the local authorities or the National Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 if they see any of the aforementioned red flags.

It may be happening in your community

  • Mar 27, 2017
  • By
  • 18k have read

By definition, human trafficking is the act of recruiting, transporting, transferring or keeping and receiving an individual against his or her will. Traffickers, sometimes also known as pimps, use coercion, manipulation, threats of violence, and exert financial control over their victims in order to keep them trapped in a lifestyle of being bought and sold.

This is why trafficking has been called modern-day slavery.

Globally, there are an estimated 20.9 million victims of forced labor, and out of those, 4.5 million individuals are trapped in forced sexual exploitation, according to the International Labour Organization.

Sign up for emails

Receive new and helpful articles weekly. Sign up here.

Victims often know their perpetrators—they can be a spouse, boyfriend or family member—meaning human trafficking overlaps with domestic violence on a regular basis. Traffickers also use tactics that abusers use to control survivors—coercion, threats of violence or outright violence, threats of harm to a survivor’s children or family, gaslighting, alienation from support persons and financial control.

“As we know in domestic violence, where victims are abused, [a survivor] may be manipulated, forced, deceived or coerced by her abuser to indulge in sex for money. She is forced to have sex for money with a threat of harm to her, her children or her loved ones if she fails to do it. She believes the proceeds would be used for the benefit of the family. And so she indulges in sex for money to help her family or boyfriend, who professes to love her dearly,” Edith Okupa with Restoration Project International, told last December.

How You Can Spot Trafficking

The following is a list of 23 signs from the National Human Trafficking Hotline that may indicate someone is being trafficked. It could be happening in your very own community, and recognizing the signs could save someone’s life. If you suspect human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.

Make a Donation

It is easy to ignore this message. Please don’t. We and the millions of people who use this non-profit website to prevent and escape domestic violence rely on your donations. A gift of $5 helps 25 people, $20 helps 100 people and $100 helps 500 people. Please help keep this valuable resource online.

  • $5
  • $20
  • $100

Work and Living Conditions:

Is restricted from coming and going as he or she wishes

Is under 18 and is providing sex acts for money or trade

Is in the commercial sex industry and has someone who manages him or her, such as a pimp

Is unpaid, paid very little or paid only through tips

Works excessively long or unusual hours

Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work

Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off

Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work

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.)

Abnormal Behaviors:

Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid

Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement

Avoids eye contact

Has no access to health care

Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement or torture

Has few or no personal possessions

Is not in control of his/her own money and has no financial records or bank accounts

Is not in control of his/her own ID or passport

Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)

Claims he or she is just visiting but is unable to clarify where he or she is staying

Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or does not know what city he/she is in

Loss of sense of time

Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story

Something Simple You Can Do

There are several warning signs for human trafficking, including poor physical and mental health, a lack of control over their lives and harsh working conditions. If you see any of these signs, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

In early 2019, law enforcement linked several prostitution busts at Florida spas to Chinese sex traffickers.

In March, Indian River County Commissioner Tim Zorc organized a meeting of experts from a nonprofit, local and federal law enforcement and the 19th Circuit State Attorney’s Office to share their insights and take questions from a community rattled by 173 arrests and the realization that human traffickers may be living or working in their neighborhoods.

CONSIDER SUBSCRIBING TODAY: Help support local journalism

These are signs on how to recognize and fight human trafficking.

What are the signs?

Look for behavioral clues in potential victims, according to the Department of Homeland Security, represented at the Vero Beach meeting by local agent in charge, Daniel Ruiz.

• Act fearful, submissive, anxious, depressed, tense or paranoid

• Let another person speak for them

• Display physical signs of abuse

• Be deprived of food, water, sleep or medical care

• Have few or no personal possessions

• Be isolated, unable to socialize or move about freely

• Work excessively long or unusual hours

• Not have control of their documents when traveling

‘See something, say something’

Jamie Bond works for Place of Hope, which provides foster services in the Treasure Coast and South Florida. She warned not all these signs definitively mean human trafficking, but it’s nonetheless important to be educated and vigilant.

“There’s that old adage, ‘See something, say something.’ But if you don’t know what you’re seeing, you can’t say something,” Bond said.

Some signs of a potential victim include, according to YouCanStopHT:

• burns or tattoos

• serious dental issues

• signs of physical abuse

• allowing someone to speak for them

• responds as if coached

• anxious or reluctant to talk about their injuries

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said the state ranks high in human trafficking awareness. Moody’s office encourages people to report suspicions to 911, local authorities, trafficking hotlines or to text HELP to BEFREE.

Who are the victims?

Worldwide, 20 million to 40 million people are estimated to be victims of human trafficking, according to Laura Cusack, who also works for Place of Hope.

Victims can be young or old, male or female, and from any socioeconomic background.

Bond said they’ve worked with local victims between the ages of 10 and 25.

And it’s not just sex slavery. There also is labor trafficking, appearing most frequently in domestic servitude, agricultural work and restaurant jobs.

“Working in a private home, working out in the fields, working in the back of a restaurant or a hotel. Very isolated places where their interaction with the public is very limited,” Cusack noted.

In the light of the Florida spa raids, which attracted international attention after billionaire New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was revealed to be one of the nearly 300 accused “johns,” some worry trafficking will be reduced to a single narrative.

“One thing we don’t want people to do is say, ‘Well that’s what it looks like,'” said Indian River County Sheriff’s Maj. Eric Flowers. “It can happen in an instant to someone that you know, someone that you love.”

How do they get away with it?

Human traffickers have a variety of ways to control and groom victims, according to Cusack.

Force: Someone may be beaten, raped or have a gun put to their head.

Fraud: Traffickers lie to lure vulnerable people, like new immigrants, runaway children or aspiring models.

Coercion: Taking the time to get to know and support a person during desperate times can lead to “trauma bonding,” which sets in motion a dangerous cycle.

Law enforcement and prosecutors explain the difficulties in bringing charges – and the hurdles in convicting traffickers. USA TODAY

These tactics can cause serious bewilderment.

“Many times, a victim of human trafficking will not recognize they’re a victim. They feel like maybe, ‘This is the agreement. This is how I get my drugs. This is how I pay my rent,'” Cusack said. “Or maybe they’ve come from such an abusive background that being trafficked doesn’t feel much different than the trauma and the abuse they’ve experienced growing up.”

Cusack recalled a story about a man twice offering a young homeless woman a free meal at McDonald’s. The second time, he gave her his card in case she ever needed help.

A couple of weeks later, still on the streets, she ran into trouble and called him.

“He could have kidnapped her. He could have made a move on her. He could have done something to hurt her. But he didn’t, because he knew, ‘If I just plant that seed, I can sit back and wait and she’ll come to me,'” she said.

“‘Because now, throughout the breadth of our relationship — I can abuse her, I can exploit her, but I can always say, ‘Yeah, but you came to me.””

What happens to the victims?

There are special visas that exist for victims of human trafficking and witness protection programs, but there’s a catch.

“Anytime we have a victim … We try and find immigration relief, as long as they’re cooperating with law enforcement,” Ruiz said.

However, law enforcement is not always able to get victims on its side, said Sgt. Ross Partee, who in 2014 investigated the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office’s first case that led to a human trafficking conviction.

Partee recalled another case, in which he waited for hours to bust in the door of a hotel room where a 33-year-old man was inside with a 17-year-old who he had badly beaten earlier.

All she told him? “I don’t know him,” and the drugs inside were hers, Partee said.

“It was very clear to me that she had been conditioned, repeatedly conditioned that that was going to be her response,” he said.

Contributing: Janine Zeitlin, USA TODAY Network-Florida

by Michelle Peterson
Executive Director of Fight to End Exploitation

“I’ve been in the life since I was 14,” she said. “I’m 34 now, I just got out of jail, but that was my life for 20 years. You know, as a mixed race child, my very nice white family made sure I knew I wasn’t one of them. But, when I was like maybe 14, I figured out how to get my way with some of them, so I used that, you know? I figured out with my looks and my body I could make them happy and I could get what I wanted.”

How to spot human traffickingWhat strikes me this evening as I listen to yet another survivor of human trafficking stand up and share a slice of her story in this warm safe space is that this young woman is fresh. I mean, she has lived a longer life than many other women her age, but she is fresh out of jail and fresh out of the grips of her most recent trafficker. This is why she doesn’t use the word “trafficked” or ever say the words “human trafficking” though that is exactly what she has survived. Most victims of human trafficking, especially those that were lured at a young age like this woman, go through years of mentoring and therapy before they can begin to comprehend how they were never truly given the tools to be in control of their own lives.

I hear her say, “I knew how to get what I wanted,” but what I know is that she was carefully groomed by people she knew and whose affection she craved. Grooming is a common and useful tool among traffickers. But, at 14, this love-starved girl likely saw this affection and special treatment not as the grooming methods of a trafficker but as the kindness of her uncle when nobody else seemed to care for her.

What is grooming?

Grooming is the precursor phase. Sexual grooming, or just “grooming”, is a preparatory process in which a predator gradually gains a person’s trust with the intent to exploit them. The victim is usually a child, teen, or vulnerable adult. The purpose of grooming is to manipulate the person into becoming a co-operating participant in their own abuse or exploitation, which reduces the likelihood of a disclosure and increases the likelihood that the victim will become attached and repeatedly return to the perpetrator.

Can grooming be stopped?

It can! But, because traffickers choose their victims based on some level of vulnerability which can be overtly identified, the victims themselves are less likely to be the ones to notice the grooming behavior or be willing to disconnect from the person grooming them. The groomer works hard to build trust with their victim while simultaneously discrediting the trustworthiness of those closest to the victim. However, understanding the basic stages of grooming can make you and those around you less vulnerable.

Targeting a victim

Traffickers target victims who have some noticeable vulnerability: emotional neediness, low self-esteem, or economic stress.
Social media and apps with private messaging features make it easier and faster for traffickers to identify their victims.

Gaining trust and information

Gathering information about the victim is key. This can be done through casual conversations with the victim or with parents or friends. Many victims are first groomed and exploited by a family member. Traffickers skilled at grooming often mix well with other adults, gaining a trusted position as an honorary “family member” if they aren’t already a member of the victim’s family.

How to spot human trafficking

Filling a need

The information gained allows the trafficker to fill a need in the victim’s life, making the victim dependant on them in some way: buying gifts, being a friend, beginning a love relationship, or buying soft drugs and alcohol. This is why many times a trafficker may look like a “boyfriend” to unsuspecting friends and family.


The trafficker creates times to be alone with the victim. The trafficker will also begin to have a major role in the victim’s life and attempt to distance the victim from friends and family. In isolation, the trafficker has more control over the messages the victim hears and is better able to manipulate them.

Abuse begins

The trafficker begins claiming that a service must be repaid whether money spent on cigarettes or drugs, car rides or mobile phones. It may even begin with requests for illicit images (sexting) that are then used to threaten the victim. In most cases, the trafficker demands sex as payment for such services.

Maintain Control

In many cases, the trafficker maintains control of the victim through threats, violence, fear, or blackmail. Many victims show loyalty to their traffickers even after they’ve been recovered because of the insidious nature of the manipulation and the trauma bonds that are formed.

Why are teens targeted?

Grooming tactics work most successfully when the victim is between the ages of 11 and 16, when a normal human brain is still developing. According the the National Institutes of Health, a teen’s brain is highly sensitive to pleasure and reward as the nucleus accumbens is nearly fully developed. But, the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that helps us make major decisions and foresee consequences – is not fully developed in most humans until their mid-twenties.

All of this means that teens are more vulnerable to flattery, attention, affection, and gifts as means of coercion, especially if there is not a strong safe attachment at home. All human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Fight to End Exploitation is on a mission to equip teens and parents themselves to spot the signs of trafficking and get out or get help as soon as possible.

How to spot human trafficking

If you’ve learned something from this article, we hope you will share it with others. Education and awareness continue to be our best weapon in the fight against human trafficking and you can use your voice and social media for good by sharing what you know. Thank you for joining the fight.

You can also donate to support the advocacy, training, and education we provide at no cost to participants, and we thank you for taking this fight seriously by investing in it.

From the Statute: Wisconsin Stat. 948.075 Use of a computer to facilitate a child sex crime. (1) Whoever uses a computerized communication system to communicate with an individual who the actor believes or has reason to believe has not attained the age of 16 years with intent to have sexual contact or sexual intercourse with the individual in violation of s.948.02(1) or (2) is guilty of a Class C felony.

E very time a new horror story about sex trafficking pops up on our radars, about women held for years against their will, or forced to be child brides, or ensnared in a prostitution ring, the same question also surfaces: why didn’t anyone notice anything?

One of the reasons sex trafficking is frequently overlooked is that it’s hiding in plain sight. Victims are not always bundled across borders in cars vans with blacked out windows or transported in shipping containers. Sometimes they’re simply brought in with thousands of other international travelers on an airplane, and forced to service johns at a local hotel.

Get The Brief. Sign up to receive the top stories you need to know right now.

How to spot human trafficking

Thank you!

Law enforcement authorities are beginning to work together with businesses—particularly hotels and airlines—to spot people who are being moved around against their will. While many of their techniques are proprietary, and the companies don’t want to say too much about them, there are a few measures that anyone might use.

Delta airline employees are now being trained to ask certain questions at check-in, Letty Ashworth, general manager of global diversity for Delta, told a packed Concordia Summit symposium on human trafficking in New York City on Sept. 29. They’re told to carefully watch for anyone whose documents are not in their own possession. “If for instance you are at a gate and there is an unaccompanied minor, do they know the name of the person they’re traveling with, or where they’re going?” she said.

Crewmembers also watch for unusual activity on a plane, such as when kids don’t answer questions or avoid eye contact when addressed. Other telltale signs might be bruising or other wounds, or a ravenous appetite. (Insert your favorite “you’d have to be starving to eat airline food” joke here. Or actually, don’t.)

Don’t expect trafficking victims to be foreign: 83% of people forced into prostitution in the U.S. are from the U.S. They’re often runaways and sometimes have been at the mercy of their traffickers for so long they see themselves not as women being pimped out for sex but as girlfriends helping their boyfriend pay the bills. “We’ve had women testify on behalf of their abuser, that they loved them and were not there against their will,” even though they had been severely abused, said Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance at the event. He’s seen at least one woman tattooed with a barcode by her trafficker, as a mark of ownership.

Vance’s office is also working with hotels to prosecute sex traffickers. One of the big red flags is people who have a pattern of frequently booking a series of hotel rooms on a credit card then paying in cash. Because sex trafficking spikes around the Super Bowl, hotel employees are being asked to be particularly vigilant during that time. And the NFL has been asked to only host the Super Bowl in states that have robust anti-trafficking laws.

The response that trafficking activists are hoping for is similar to the response for suspected acts of terror: “If you see something say something.” Vance is a bit more circumspect. “First people have to decide they care about it,” he said in an interview. “Unless you acknowledge that it happens and are prepared to talk about it it’s not going to change. It all starts at the grass roots. We had 3,500 homeless kids come to New York City last year; they’re a target for traffickers. It has to start from people understanding these aren’t kids in Africa. These are our kids.”

Human trafficking has over the years become a global and multi-million dollar enterprise. As one of the world’s fastest growing criminal industries, the trade and its signs are largely unspoken. For instance, did you know that according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), nearly 25 million people are currently living in modern day slavery? That’s roughly the population of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Phoenix combined. And while most people assume it’s an issue affecting only other countries, a surprisingly large portion exists within the United States. For example, 83% of people forced into prostitution in the U.S. are from the U.S.

So why is a business travel management blog discussing human trafficking? As with any global business, international and domestic travel is necessary and usually frequent. In fact, the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that 60% of victims – that’s roughly 15 million people – are transported across international borders. This makes transportation hubs; like airports, bus stations, and train stations, actual hotbeds for human trafficking. It unfortunately also often the last time a victim is seen before being forced into the dark underbelly of human enslavement. Once the victim gets off the plane or bus, they tend to become almost impossible to trace and rescue.

This depressing and scary fact actually provides business travelers a unique advantage. As frequent travelers, they cross paths with virtually all walks of life on a business trip, and could become a huge proponent for stopping human trafficking. By being aware of the signs, and the correct outlets to report, this demographic may very well save lives. Signs of human trafficking are actually pretty easy to recognize. So easy in fact, that without being aware of the signs, they often go unnoticed. Paying attention to anything out of the ordinary, and knowing the actions to take if you suspect something could very easily save a life.

How to spot human trafficking in airports:

    1. Person is not dressed appropriately for their travel destination. Trafficking victims are often wearing clothes that seem out of place. They may not be the correct sizes, appear disheveled, or unprepared for the destination. In fact, they may be carrying very little luggage or no luggage at all. Also, it is likely the people he/she is traveling with is more well dressed and appropriately for the destination.
    2. May look malnourished, has bruises or other wounds, or ravenous appetite. In addition to their clothes, their overall appearance may be distressing.
    3. Traveling with someone else or people who seem to hold all the control. A telltale sign is two or more people traveling together, but don’t seem to be related or even friends. The trafficker is likely more confident, even controlling. The suspected victim may be followed if they move about the cabin or the airport.
    4. Can’t provide information on their location, destination, or flight information. Victims are often not told where they are, where they’re going, or even what might happen next. They may not even know the name of the person they are traveling with.
    5. Communication seems scripted. If you talk to the person in question, their answers sound scripted or lacks consistency. Traffickers sometimes coach their victims to say certain things to avoid suspicion. Fear and intimidation are two ways traffickers hold their power. They may try to avoid any interaction and defer communication to the possible trafficker.
    6. May have a tattoo with a bar code or male’s name.Many people have tattoos, so this tip is not always a sure sign. Traffickers or pimps often tattoo or brand their own names or the word ‘Daddy’ on their victims. Usually this is a sign to show dominance. Other indicating tattoos maybe dollar signs or cuss words.

What frequent business travelers should do if they suspect human trafficking:

  1. First and foremost – do not be a hero. Do not interact with them directly or try to rescue the suspected victim. The safest way to help human trafficking victims is to report it to the correct channels and as much information as possible.
  2. As a growing epidemic, most airline employees and flight attendants have gone through human trafficking detection training. Tell a flight attendant or security guard your suspicions and they will alert the authorities.
  3. Only if you can do so safely, take a picture of the possible victim and trafficker.
  4. Write down descriptions of the possible victim and trafficker. Note any significant tattoos, scars or body marks.
  5. Report your concerns to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Keep the number in your phone so it can be easily accessed if needed – 1-888-373-7888.

If interested in learning more, read this great resource on how to help victims of human trafficking.