Recognizing the Signs

Are you or someone you know being trafficked? Is human trafficking happening in your community? Knowing the red flags and indicators of human trafficking is a key step in identifying more victims and helping them find the assistance they need.

To request help or report suspected human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Or text INFO or HELP to: BeFree (233733).

Common Work and Living Conditions: The Individual(s) in Question

  • Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
  • Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
  • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp/manager
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
  • Works excessively long and/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.)

Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior

  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Poor physical health
  • Lacks health care
  • Appears malnourished
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture

Lack of Control

  • 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

This list is not exhaustive and represents only a selection of possible indicators. Also, the red flags in this list may not be present in all trafficking cases and are not cumulative. Learn more at

Credit: Polaris Project

How to Identify a Human Trafficking Victim

Ordinary citizens can be trained to recognize the signs and what they can do to stop it, particularly at crowded events like the Super Bowl. Possible situations to look for include:

  • A young girl who is with someone who is older, partying and/or romantically involved and that person seems to be in charge of where she goes, what she does and who she talks to.
  • Someone who appears to be soliciting for prostitution (majority are sex trafficked, even though they may claim to be on their own.)
  • Those dressed in a provocative way, are exceptionally flirty and repeatedly check in with someone else on a cell phone or in person.
  • Someone who seems to have a bodyguard, or friends watching from a distance.
  • Someone who is avoiding normal eye contact with others, unless soliciting
  • Someone who acts a bit skittish, fearful, or appears drugged or drunk
  • Many people coming and going from a single hotel room at all hours
  • Teens who are trying to appear as adults and carry and present fake ID
  • Physical appearance shows signs of injuries, abuse or torture.
  • Hotel housekeeping staff notices unusual amount of condoms, lubricants, etc. in hotel rooms.

What are the Most Important Red Flags to Look for?

There are several red flags people should look for and if present pay very close attention. You should pay heightened attention to people you see who:

  • are not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
  • are under 18 and are providing commercial sex acts
  • work long hours with no breaks or unusual restrictions
  • avoid eye contact and show signs of physical abuse or restraint, confinement or torture
  • are unable to clearly explain where they live
  • are fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, or paranoid


How Can We Help the Victims?

Victims that have been recovered are hoping that they can get the help needed to find a new, safe, happy life. Sex trafficking victims, particularly minors, have a tough road in front of them even under the best circumstances. They need trauma-based treatment, kindness, understanding, a stable and non-threatening environment and lots of time. Professional counseling and medical or mental health services will help them to recover from the atrocities that have happened to them.

There are many professional organizations who provide support and help people in the throes of domestic minor sex trafficking, adult sex trafficking and labor trafficking. IN OUR BACKYARD can help with those referrals.

Anyone who suspects human trafficking should call local authorities or the toll-free 24-hour hotline for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center: 888-3737-888, or text BeFree (233733). You can also leave a tip on their website at

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