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5 Human Trafficking Tactics: What to Look for

Human trafficking is something that only happens in movies, right? Our kids can't possibly be at risk of being trafficked, we keep a close watch on them, we protect them.

The reality is that every city and every state and every country has trafficking. Regardless of age, gender, or demographic, we are all at risk for human trafficking. Thousands of people were trafficked in 2022 alone. The bad news, is that anyone can be trafficked and everyone is at risk. The good news, is that through being aware, you can protect not only yourself, but the people you love. Here's 5 tactics traffickers use and to be on the lookout for.

Traffickers Target Vulnerable Populations

Traffickers look for populations that will be easier to exploit by using their vulnerabilities against them. It's important to emphasize that someone does not have to fall within any of these categories to be trafficked. Finding any vulnerability against an individual makes them more susceptible to trafficking, regardless of what that vulnerability is. Common ways these vulnerabilities are exploited are through telling the individual this is the only place they will be accepted, encouraging the vulnerability (such as substance abuse), and false promises through romantic seduction or force.

  • Substance use or abuse

  • Gang involvement

  • Runaways

  • Online Vulnerability

  • Criminal records

  • Language barriers

  • Unaccompanied immigrant children

  • low income or poverty

Traffickers target these populations and alike, and look for individuals who feel hopeless or without a sense of belonging. Traffickers promise independence and a way out, often targeting people with financial instability or poverty.

Traffickers Make False Promises

Traffickers coerce their targets by making false promises. These promises include but are not limited to, promises of:

  • Love and affection, such as promises of marriage or partnership

  • Security (job security, housing security, financial security, etc.)

  • Safety or protection from an unsafe home environment

  • Acceptance (LGBTQ+, substance use, parental disagreements, etc.)

Traffickers Work to Gain the Trust of their Victims

Traffickers work towards gaining the trust of their targets so that their promises carry more weight. Not only this, but they are then able to provide a false sense of security as well as stability that the target may be lacking in their lives. It may be during a time in the victim's life when they feel as though no one cares for them, the trafficker utilizes that need and fulfills it, telling the victim they are the only one who cares about them.

Many People Become Victims through Force or Coercion

There are some cases where people become victims through physical force or coercion. Coercion is persuading someone through the use of force or threats to do something they would not usually do. Beyond threats or abuse against the individual, traffickers may also threaten the person's family in order to force a victim to comply. While there are many different kinds of force or abuse that a trafficker may use, a few examples include:

  • Threats against family, friends, or loved ones

  • Physical abuse

  • Sexual abuse

  • Emotional abuse

  • Psychological intimidation and manipulation

  • Exploitation

  • Blackmail

  • Isolation or restraint

  • Withholding legal documents (passport, drivers license, ID, immigration papers, etc.)

There are other types of force or coercion that may be used, it is also a possibility that the victim will feel indebted to the trafficker, believing that they owe them labor or sex in return for keeping them safe or helping them survive. It is important to be on the lookout for these kinds of behavior in order to keep yourself, and your loved ones safe.

Human Traffickers can make Promises of Love and Affection

One form of deceit that can be very effective in certain situations, is making promises of love and affection through romantic relationships. In some cases, there may even be marriage proposals. The victim at this time, genuinely believes that the trafficker loves and cares for them. Therefore, when they are asked to engage in some sexual or labor trafficking activities, they are more willing to accept.

You Know what to look for, but now what?

If at any point you suspect that you or someone you know is being trafficked, there are some important things to keep in mind when moving forward with how to help yourself or them.

National Human Trafficking Hotline


The National Hotline is a toll-free anti-trafficking hotline and resource center available 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They work towards helping victims and survivors of human trafficking. You can call and report yourself, report on behalf of someone, or report something you saw.

The National Runaway Switchboard

1-800-RUNAWAY (1-800-786-2829)

This is the federally-designated national communication system for runaway and homeless youth. NRS provides intervention, education, prevention, and referrals to local resources. They are also available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year for youth, families, and community members.

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children


NCMEC is the nation's largest reporting center for all issues related to the recovery, prevention, education, and resources surrounding abduction, abuse, and

exploitation of children. They provide a number of resources such as Team Hope, a cyber tip line, a 24-hour hotline, amber alerts, and missing person posters.


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