How to Recognize a Trafficking Victim

The issue of sex trafficking has become famous over the past few years. You may have seen the movie Taken or heard of trafficking through SVU or other TV shows, or maybe you’ve come across real-life news stories that describe the gruesome details of trafficking.

So what is it? 

Sex trafficking is the forced participation in a sexual act. Victims are sometimes kidnapped and drugged; sometimes victims are forced into pornography or other levels of the sex industry through blackmail or threats of physical harm to themselves and/or their loved ones. They are “conditioned” through a variety of abuses so that they will cooperate and create a profit for their traffickers.

While there are several common ways traffickers “recruit” their victims, two of the most common are:

  • Through a pretend job opportunity: the trafficker will seek a victim in a desperate state of poverty, someone willing to move away from their home and family in order to provide for their loved ones. Traffickers offer a too-good-to-be-true opportunity: housekeeping, childcare, administrative tasks, agricultural labor, etc. for a wealthy person, often in another country. The trafficker will usually take on the responsibility of immigration paperwork and transportation as a “favor,” creating a “debt” for the victim that they now owe. Rarely does the promised job actually exist; and if it does, it is not the golden opportunity the victim was guaranteed.
  • Through a “loverboy” relationship: the trafficker will seek someone in a state of emotional instability. (Often the victim has a history of abuse in her past.) The trafficker will appear as the guy she’s always dreamed of, giving her attention and buying her gifts and taking her to expensive places. Eventually the relationship will become abusive, then exploitive, but at that point the victim will be emotionally tied to the trafficker and actually won’t want to leave.

Now, you might be familiar with these facts and statistics, but where do you think these horrors occur?

These are not just third-world problems.

In fact, the main highway for trafficking victims in the United States runs right through my hometown. But what do we do?

There is a very well-known quote by Edmund Burke that says, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Now that you know that this injustice exists, you are responsible for what you do with that knowledge. 

Does that mean it is your responsibility to raid brothels and tail suspects across I-10? No, probably not. But you are capable of a lot more than you probably realize.

How to Recognize a Sex Trafficking Vicim

First, familiarize yourself with your region. What major interstates/ highways/ airports/ other means of transportation are present in your city? Are there large truck stops in your city? Independent massage parlors? Does your city have “traveler-friendly” exits with lots of fast-food restaurants and gas stations and rest stops? While these factors by themselves don’t guarantee that trafficking is present, they do foster an environment for trafficking to thrive.

During your day-to-day routine, pay attention to what and who surrounds you. As you fill up your car with gas, as you wait in line for fast-food, as you walk past a public restroom, and as you shop in a strip mall, keep an eye out for these things:

  • Young girls with heavy makeup
  • Girls and women with bruises on their faces, hands, or wrists
  • Young women that appear to be in a dysfunctional and/or abusive relationship, often with a MUCH older man (especially if he won’t let her talk for herself, such as order her own food, etc.) It is possible that she will still express affection toward him, even if he is abusive.
  • Odd tattoos that imply “ownership”: numbers, barcodes, weird “Daddy” phrases, anything that features a man’s name in a possessive way
  • Girls or women with a group of men in a weird, dysfunctional dynamic (especially if they won’t let her/them be alone)
  • A girl or woman who appears to be drugged
  • Men “shopping” together in groups of three or four and not actually shopping

None of these things on their own automatically mean trafficking, but they are helpful things to watch for. If you see something suspicious, REPORT IT IMMEDIATELY, but DO NOT attempt to intervene on your own.

The national trafficking hotline (is a great resource if you are suspicious but not certain. Be aware that they will ask you to give a full account with as many details as you are able to provide, so this will likely not be a quick phone call. (Be sure to call after you leave the site.)

If you see someone in immediate danger or if you feel like you yourself are in danger, call 911. The good thing about many of the above mentioned places is that they are not far from police intervention, and many of them will have security officers on the premises. Try to be subtle if you call for assistance so you won’t draw attention to yourself.

Here’s a disclaimer for you: I’m not a government official, a police officer or an affiliate of any organization that is actively rescuing victims. However, I have reported suspicious activity. I believe it is part of our roles as citizens of our communities to keep an eye out and report anything that raises our concern.

Have you ever reported suspected trafficking? Do you have a favorite organization that is fighting against this injustice? Comment below to tell me about it!

Chat next week,

xoxo, Robin

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