How Can I Identify Human Trafficking? | OUR Rescue
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How Can I Identify Human Trafficking?

OUR Rescue
Posted by OUR Rescue
Published on July 8, 2024
4 min read

There are many potential signs of human trafficking. Signs can be physical or emotional. Suspicious activities and concerning situations are also possible indicators that something may be wrong.

While not every warning sign means someone is being trafficked, the more you notice, the higher the possibility that human trafficking or another illegal activity is taking place.

Physical Signs

These are indications you can notice from someone’s physical appearance. Abuse is a common sign that something is wrong. This can reveal itself through bruises, broken bones, or other injuries.

Sometimes, human traffickers brand victims with physical markings. These are often tattoos with a sexual inuendo or suggestion of money and ownership. Like markings, skin wounds sometimes serve as another tell-tell sign that human trafficking is occurring.

“Branding, rashes, and bruising are typically seen in victims of sex trafficking, whereas cuts, burns, and skin injury are more likely found on victims of labor trafficking.” (National Library of Medicine)

Another indication of a potential human trafficking situation is malnourishment. Because predators often view victims as being less than or not equal to a person, they treat them poorly. This includes withholding or restricting access to food, water, and other basic necessities.

Emotional & Psychological Signs

These can be harder to notice than someone’s physical appearance. However, they are just as important.

Someone who is being trafficked may avoid eye contact and social interaction. They may be afraid of saying or doing something that would make the trafficker angry, which often leads to punishment. As a result, individuals being trafficked may be submissive and fearful. At times, the affected individual may be accompanied by their trafficker, who insists on speaking for the survivor and is very reluctant to allow you to speak to them or be alone with the survivor. In short, the trafficker may want to dominate your interaction with the individual being exploited.

Additionally, the traumas experienced by human trafficking victims frequently lead to signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (e.g., avoidant behaviors, episodes of anxiety triggered by things going on in the immediate environment, difficulty controlling emotions) and depression; they may attempt to treat these symptoms through use of alcohol or drugs. In addition, many traffickers may take advantage of an individual’s pre-existing substance misuse disorder or mental health disorder to recruit them into exploitation.

Suspicious Activities

Whether it’s a friend, family member, or stranger, certain actions and activities should raise concerns. Are you aware of someone engaging in commercial sex acts? This is concerning, especially if it’s a minor. On the same note, a minor “dating” a much older individual is also a major red flag.

Additional suspicious activities include someone living in unreasonable conditions (e.g., too many people living in a small space, especially if the place is owned/controlled by the employer, lack of running water and other basic necessities in the context of a filthy environment), not being in control of personal possessions, or checking into a hotel with an individual they appear to have no relationship with.

Employment Red Flags

Labor trafficking is very real. Just like sex trafficking, it happens in communities worldwide every day. If an employer collects “fees” from employees, pays little to no wages, requires excessive work hours without breaks, controls the identity documents (e.g., passport, driver’s license) of employees, or implements an abusive work environment, labor trafficking may be occurring, in addition to labor law violations.

Another sign of this is employees who live at their place of employment. You can learn more about forced labor here.

Concerning Situations

Here are situations that raise human trafficking concerns, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. If someone:

  1. Is newly showered with gifts or money or otherwise becomes involved in an overwhelming, fast-moving, and asymmetric (e.g., large difference in age or financial status) romantic relationship.
  1. Frequently runs away or is told to leave their home.
  1. Is developing a relationship that seems too close with someone they know solely on social media.
  1. Is offered a job opportunity that seems too good to be true.
  1. Is recruited for an opportunity that requires them to move far away but the recruiter / prospective employer avoids answering their questions or is reluctant to provide detailed information about the job.

Specific to Hotels


  • Hotels Sued for Human Trafficking story


  • Office for Victims of Crime Training & Technical Assistance Center’s SOAR

Now What?

If you identify any potential signs of human trafficking, contact the authorities immediately. If there is immediate danger, call 911.  If you wish to report a tip of possible trafficking, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline (1-888-373-7888 or Text INFO (233733). This could be the difference in someone’s life. But don’t stop there. Continue to increase your awareness of the crime, and join the fight with OUR Rescue!