Recognizing the Signs

We are learning more about how specific people, such as medical professionals, teachers, truck drivers, and restaurant personnel, as well as friends and family members, can help identify and report possible trafficking as the anti-trafficking movement in the United States has grown in our understanding of this diverse and complex crime. Everyone can assist by becoming aware of the different kinds of human trafficking and paying attention to those around us.

Who is Most Vulnerable?

In any community, anybody may be a victim of human trafficking, just as anyone can be a victim of any crime. While anybody can be a victim of human trafficking, data shows that persons of color and LGBTQ+ individuals are more prone than other demographic groups to be victims. Community-wide vulnerabilities are created by generational trauma, historical oppression, discrimination, and other socioeconomic issues and injustices. People who are vulnerable are identified and used by traffickers.

People may be vulnerable to trafficking if they:

  • Have an unstable living situation

  • Have previously experienced other forms of violence such as sexual abuse or domestic violence

  • Have run away or are involved in the juvenile justice or child welfare system

  • Are undocumented immigrants

  • Are facing poverty or economic need

  • Have a caregiver or family member who has a substance use issue

  • Are addicted to drugs or alcohol

Who Are the Traffickers?

There is no indication that certain races, nationalities, genders, or sexual orientations are more prone to be traffickers. They might be relatives, love partners, acquaintances, or complete strangers.

How Traffickers Lure People In?

Stories become weapons in the hands of people traffickers, whether they are tales of eternal romantic love or tales of decent employment and fair salaries just around the corner. The tales themselves can sometimes trigger red flags. During recruiting, traffickers or wannabe traffickers may present red flags.

Here are a few situations that might raise concerns:

  • A would-be employer refuses to give workers a signed contract or asks them to sign a contract in a language they can’t read.

  • A would-be employer collects fees from a potential worker for the “opportunity” to work in a particular job.

  • A friend, family member, co-worker, or student 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.

  • A friend, family member, or student is a frequent runaway and may be staying with someone who is not their parent or guardian.

  • A family member, friend, co-worker, or student is developing a relationship that seems too close with someone they know solely on social media.

  • A family member, friend, or student lives with a parent or guardian and shows signs of abuse.

  • A family member, friend, or co-worker is offered a job opportunity that seems too good to be true.

  • A family member, friend, or co-worker is recruited for an opportunity that requires them to move far away, but their recruiter or prospective employer avoids answering their questions or is reluctant to provide detailed information about the job.

Recognizing Labor Trafficking

Men, women, and children are compelled to work as a result of debt, immigration status, threats, and violence in cases of labor trafficking. In most labor trafficking settings, keeping victims isolated — physically or mentally — is a crucial strategy of control. However, this does not rule out the possibility of encountering someone who is a victim of human trafficking.


Someone may be a victim of labor exploitation or trafficking if they:

  • Feel pressured by their employer to stay in a job or situation they want to leave

  • Owe money to an employer or recruiter or are not being paid what they were promised or are owed

  • Do not have control of their passport or other identity documents

  • Are living and working in isolated conditions, largely cut off from interaction with others or support systems

  • Appear to be monitored by another person when talking or interacting with others

  • Are being threatened by their boss with deportation or other harm

  • Are working in dangerous conditions without proper safety gear, training, adequate breaks, or other protections

  • Are living in dangerous, overcrowded, or inhumane conditions provided by an employer


Recognizing Sex Trafficking

Men, women, and children are compelled to work as a result of debt, immigration status, threats, and violence in cases of labor trafficking. In most labor trafficking settings, keeping victims isolated — physically or mentally — is a crucial strategy of control. However, this does not rule out the possibility of encountering someone who is a victim of human trafficking.


Someone may be a victim of labor exploitation or trafficking if they:

  • Want to stop participating in commercial sex but feel scared or unable to leave the situation.

  • Disclose that they were reluctant to engage in commercial sex but that someone pressured them into it.

  • Live where they work or are transported by guards between home and workplace.

  • Are children who live with or are dependent on a family member with a substance use problem or who is abusive.

  • Have a “pimp” or “manager” in the commercial sex industry.

  • Work in an industry where it may be common to be pressured into performing sex acts for money, such as a strip club, illicit cantina, go-go bar, or illicit massage business.

  • Have a controlling parent, guardian, romantic partner, or “sponsor” who will not allow them to meet or speak with anyone alone or who monitors their movements, spending, or communications.

​If you believe you are a victim of human trafficking or may have information about a potential trafficking situation, please contact the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 911.