6 Red Flags of Human Trafficking in Youth

Written by Siobhan Cook

During Human Trafficking Awareness Month, it’s crucial to discuss how to spot signs of human trafficking and exploitation in young people. Understanding these signs can better help us identify those who might be in danger and need our help. Remember, we all play a part in creating a safe community by staying aware and informed about human trafficking.

1) Relationships

  • In, or seeks out, unhealthy romantic relationships
  • Associates may have nicknames to conceal identity
  • May connect to people over the internet via social media
  • Claim of intimate relationship with an older individuals
  • Is not able to make decisions about their future without checking in with this individual

2) Power & Control

  • Scars, bruises, and/or name(s) tattooed on their bodies
  • Some of their belongings may be above their means but not in control of money or ID
  • May have multiple phones or numbers/change numbers frequently
  • Sexually provocative clothing
  • Gang colors, symbols, and/or affiliation

3) Coming and Going

  • Transported to/from work, sometimes live and work at the same vague location
  • Will come and go at odd hours of the day/night
  • Have an extreme need to be accessible by certain people at anytime
  • May fear for their safety but then run back to the source of fear

4) Employment

  • May commonly be seeking employment but have most of their needs met somehow
  • Tend to work long and/or unusual hours
  • May be open about “tricks” or “sugar daddy” figures

5) Mental Health

  • Possibly uses substances, or suffers from Substance Use Disorder
  • Attachment Trauma
  • Complex PTSD
  • May demonstrate unexpected fits of extreme fear, sadness, and/or rage
  • May isolate, express suicidal ideation, and/or attempt to harm themselves or others

6) Receiving Help

  • May be avoidant, resistant, or fearful of receiving assistance: financial, social, medical, etc.
  • Distrusting of service providers
  • May have high needs but struggles with follow through or last minute cancellations/no shows

What do I do next?

  1. If you see a suspicious event, report immediately. Those moments matter.
  2. NEVER approach the victim or trafficker in the midst of an interaction.
  3. In an emergency, call 911 if you believe that you have witnessed Human Trafficking. Don’t worry about being wrong. Your call may be the one that saves a life.
  4. For non-emergencies and anonymity, call National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888.
  5. Provide “actionable information”: descriptions of cars, people, times, dates and location. Take a photo if safe to do so.
  6. If the client in your care makes an emergency outcry, please call SAFELine (512.267. SAFE) and request an On-Call CARES Advocate.

Read our blog on common misconceptions about Human Trafficking.