Signs of Slavery
By Donovan Baltich
A toy truck emblazoned with a pink heart within a heart made national headlines for all the wrong reasons in March. The story, originally reported by WFLA Tampa, then The Huffington Post, Parent Herald and many others shared that the symbol is a code used for sex traffickers to communicate that a child is ready for sale.
As the symbol’s meaning is lost on both the vendor and parents who bought the toy, it posed no risk in this case, but it does stress the importance of being aware.
Chances are you know or have seen a victim of sex trafficking. The acts take place in private, but the symptoms are more than public. A victim could be the child at the street corner, on the bus, or seated next to you in class. And no, it’s not only a third-world problem; it takes place in the United States as well. And it’s a growing problem.
“The second most important goal that Operation Underground Railroad does, after saving kids, is to show people that sex slavery exists,” says O.U.R. Founder and CEO Tim Ballard. “People just have to see it and they’re instantly converted.”
Victims feel powerless and won’t speak up for themselves, so it’s up to you to empower them and give them a voice. It all begins with knowing the signs of sex trafficking.
Know the Signs
What vulnerabilities do sex traffickers take advantage of?
Sex traffickers are prone to target children who are easily manipulated and who are less likely to be checked up on. Common vulnerabilities include children who:
Have a history of sexual abuse, neglect or domestic violence
- Have other family members involved in commercial sex
- Have been displaced by a social or natural disaster
- Are part of undocumented, stateless or ostracized groups
- Are impoverished or have family under financial strain
- Run away from home or skip school frequently
- Experiment with risky sexual behaviors or drugs
- Have low self-esteem
What are common fronts traffickers use to sell children for sex?
Children are often recruited through false promises concerning the nature of their work. Whether it is a runaway who needs to buy his next meal or a teenage beauty queen hoping to make it in the world of modeling, traffickers establish all kinds of fronts to lure victims.
In Cartagena, Colombia, Tim Ballard shared that a group of traffickers lured young girls with the help of a well-known local beauty queen to recruit through a false modeling agency. “It was big news when the truth came out about her because everyone knew her — this beauty queen who turned and sells 11- and 12-year-old girls.”
Some of the most common places where children can be lured and sold for sex include:
- Strip clubs and exotic dance venues
- Online ads, chat services and pornography sites
- Begging in the streets
- Escort or dating services
- Housecleaning, child and elderly care
- Restaurants or bars
- Factories, sweatshops and agricultural work
- Hotel, motels, massage parlors and salons
What are some red flags of a child abuse?
Traffickers prevent children from feeling any hope about attaining freedom by setting up financial, travel, surveillance and mental barriers. Watch for these signs along with physical and behavioral signs.
Lack of control
- Has guardians, older partners or “sponsors” who monitor the victim excessively and insist on speaking on his or her behalf at all times
- Excessive security may be in place at the victim’s home/work (security cameras, boarded or covered windows, etc.)
- Various men go to and from the victim’s work/home frequently
- Has no control of his or her own passport and other identification documents
- Has no control of his or her own money, bank account or financial documents
- Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
- Has few or no personal possessions
- Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior at the mention of law enforcement
- Acts jumpy, overly submissive or avoids eye contact
- Is unable to give answers about his or her schedule or living and work locations/conditions
- Makes claims of just visiting and has an inability to clarify where he or she is staying
- Has a lack of knowledge of whereabouts and does not know what city he or she is in
- Has inconsistencies in his/her story; contradictory personal information (age, place of birth, family life)
- Sudden detachment or isolation from family members and friends
- Receives no or very little pay, or is paid only through tips
- Appears to work and live in the same location
- Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
- Tattoos with names that aren’t his or her own, and is reluctant to explain
- Noticeable change in dress, jewelry, hair or nails without explainable source of income
- Suffers from substance abuse problems, psychological disorders, sexually transmitted diseases, or chronic illnesses
- Carries multiple hotel key cards, large amounts of cash and sharp objects to use as weapons
- Appears fearful, malnourished, anxious or depressed
- Has bruises, cuts or burns
What can I do to help?
1. Share this post with your friends.
2. Support and learn more about Operation Underground Railroad. Sign up today to become an abolitionist by donating $5 a month to the cause.
3. Create your own YourRescue campaign at ourrescue.org.
4. Be aware of warning signs and vulnerabilities. If you suspect someone may be a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733 (BeFree), or contact OURrescue.org.
“Once you see it, you can’t NOT do something about it.” – Tim Ballard