In the first part of my three part series on sex trafficking, I discussed “The Who.” Who are the victims of sex trafficking? Who are the perpetrators? In this next installation, I will talk about how to determine if someone is, indeed, being sexually trafficked.

Let me be clear: just because someone is exhibiting some of the warning signs that indicate involvement in sex trafficking, doesn’t mean that she is a victim. Other problems might be the culprit, such as mental illness or domestic abuse. Regardless, it is better to take action than to ignore a potentially life-threatening issue.

My consulting work as Interim Director of a shelter for sexually trafficked youth taught me that there are several red flags to look for when considering whether or not someone is being trafficked. My personal knowledge, coupled with research conducted by Polaris, the Trafficking Resource Center, and Hope for Justice revealed that there are a few key signs to watch for in order to identify potential victims of sex trafficking:

1. Excuses

Sex trafficking victims are constantly making up stories about where they’ve been or what they are doing. They try to cover up bruises and broken bones with tales of falling down the stairs or tripping on the sidewalk. Oftentimes, victims are not allowed out of confinement for long stretches of time, and need to make up excuses to rush back home, for fear of being punished by their “manager” or pimp.

2. Poor Health

Victims of trafficking are often in poor physical health. They might appear malnourished, battered and bruised, anxiety-filled, or timid. They often live in fear and might exhibit that fear through reluctance to make eye contact, submissive behavior, or nervousness about speaking up.

3. Age

Sex traffickers often prey upon young people. There is, unfortunately, a large market for young sex workers and minors may get into the sex trade without really knowing what they’re committing to. According to the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking, “Children are often trafficked, employed and exploited because, compared to adults, they are more vulnerable, cheaper to hire and are less likely to demand higher wages or better working conditions.” Even if a young person claims to have entered into a sexual contract willingly, the fact remains that any minor providing commercial sex acts is being trafficked.

4. Constraints

One of the surest signs of human trafficking is also one of the hardest to see. Most people who are forced into sexual slavery are usually not allowed to leave a set area. That area might be restricted to a neighborhood, a city block, or even a building. They are confined to a small world and may be subjected to high security measures such as opaque or boarded-up windows, barbed wire fences, or security cameras. When they venture into the outside world, they are often accompanied by someone else to deter them from running away.

5. Financial Difficulties

Victims of human trafficking are sometimes given an allowance, but are often given nothing at all. They typically have no bank account, no personal savings, and few possessions. Additionally, they often lack any kind of identification, such as a driver’s license or passport.

6. Disorientation

In some cases, the victims of sex trafficking have been taken to a foreign country or city and have no idea where they are. They might not speak the language or understand the local customs. Alternatively, on a day-to-day basis, victims might experience disorientation because they don’t know what time it is or even the date. This kind of fogginess is a clear tip-off if you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking.


Are you or someone you know being trafficked? Is human trafficking happening in your community? Recognizing potential red flags and knowing the indicators of human trafficking is a key step in identifying more victims and helping them find the assistance they need.

To request help or report suspected human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-373-7888 FREE. Or text HELP to: BeFree (233733).

Being vigilant may save someone’s life. Law enforcement officials should be notified immediately if you are suspicious of any unusual behavior in your neighborhood or community.

Stay tuned. The final segment of my three-part series on sex trafficking deals with How to Help Victims of Trafficking.


Jayce Hunter is the author of Undoing and Water Color Roses. She is dedicated to telling stories with intense emotion and gritty truths.