OUR Stories

Signs of Slavery

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

Information in the following lists came in part from Love 146 and Polaris, two fellow organizations that fight to eradicate modern-day slavery.

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

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:

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

Behavioral signs

Physical signs

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





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