Identifying human trafficking

Identifying human trafficking

Human trafficking victims are among us, yet they are often unseen. Trafficking is a hidden crime as victims rarely come forward to seek help because of language barriers, fear of the traffickers, and / or fear of law enforcement.

They may be accused of committing crimes or of being traffickers themselves, when the reality is that they are being coerced or preyed upon by others. Victims are often girls and women, but a significant number of boys are victimised, too.

Traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to lure their victims and force them into labour or commercial sexual exploitation. They look for people who are susceptible for a variety of reasons, including psychological or emotional vulnerability, economic hardship, lack of a social safety net, natural disasters, or political instability. The trauma caused by the traffickers can be so great that many may not identify themselves as victims or ask for help, even in highly public settings.

Whether a migrant is moving to escape relative poverty, famine, war, disease or political oppression, they have one thing in common: they are all seeking a better life. Criminals understand this and see it as a golden opportunity to exploit the vulnerable. When migrants are transiting through ungoverned or poorly governed states, they are easy prey for the unscrupulous.

Being able to identify and disrupt the manifestations of trafficking in our communities is key to eradicate human trafficking networks and help survivors. Identifying victims can help save a life. From sex trafficking within escort services to labour trafficking of farmworkers, the ways humans are exploited differ greatly. Each type has unique strategies for recruiting and controlling victims, and concealing the crime.

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

Warning signs can include: 

  • A history of running away; 
  • Large amounts of cash, 
  • Multiple mobile phones or keys; 
  • Tattoos or branding that the victim won’t explain; 
  • Signs of abuse or sexually transmitted disease; 
  • A controlling boyfriend or girlfriend; 
  • Gang involvement.

A person who has been trafficked may:

  • Show signs that their movement is controlled;
  • Have false identity or travel documents;
  • Not know their home or work address;
  • Have no access to their earnings;
  • Be unable to negotiate working conditions;
  • Work excessively long hours over long periods;
  • Have limited or no social interaction;
  • Have limited contact with their families or with people outside of their immediate environment
  • Think that they are bonded by debt.

Perceptions of human trafficking often involve women forced into prostitution. This is just one aspect of human trafficking. Survivors of trafficking also include men and children, and these survivors are exploited by any number of means. 

Victims may be forced into any of the following types of labour, among others:

  • domestic servitude
  • agricultural work

  • manufacturing

  • janitorial services

  • hotel services

  • construction

  • health and elder care

  • hair and nail salons

  • prostitution

  • strip club dancing.


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