AMU Human Trafficking Law Enforcement Original Public Safety

Everyone Has a Role in Identifying Human Trafficking

By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice

When I first learned about human trafficking, I assumed it was an international problem in faraway countries. However, I quickly learned that the problem is right here in our backyard.

Human trafficking typically involves sex trafficking, forced labor, or domestic servitude. Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world and especially in the United States. Another misconception I had was that victims were not originally from the United States. However, over 80% of sex trafficking victims are native-born Americans.

To effectively mitigate this horrible crime, it is important that the public becomes aware of the indicators of human trafficking and understands what to do when it is discovered or suspected. Everyone – including first responders, medical staff, school officials, and everyday citizens – has an important role in identifying indicators of human trafficking. This is very important because currently only .04% of international human trafficking victims are identified, indicating that most cases go undetected.

Children in the US Account for More than Half of Active Criminal Trafficking Cases

Here in the United States, children account for over half (51.6%) of active criminal human trafficking cases. The average age of a child who enters the commercial sex trade is 12 to 14 years old. In the United States, all children under 18 are considered to be victims of human trafficking if they are engaged in the commercial sex trade, regardless of whether it is against their will or not.

Parents can prevent this by using the security settings on their children’s smart phones to limit the time they can access social media. Also the child must be prohibited from accepting online contacts with someone she doesn’t know whether from school, in the community or just total strangers.

Children Must Not Share Personal Information with Someone They Don’t Know

Prohibiting children from sharing personal information on the internet with someone they don’t know is absolutely essential. Indicators that a trafficker might be grooming a potential victim on the internet include gifts that show up from this new “friend,” when the child is suddenly spending a lot of time communicating online with this mysterious person, or when her normal behavior changes.

[Related: Understanding How Sex Trafficking Works Can Help Prevent It]

Additional indicators include children in the company of an adult who is not their parent or other relative. Sex trafficking rings commonly use private homes where victims are rotated through.

Neighbors who observe adults frequently visiting a home where teenagers seem to come and go could be an indicator of illicit activities, especially if the windows are always covered or if cars come and go late at night.

Additional indicators include:

  • A rapid change in personality to a withdrawn attitude
  • Signs of physical abuse such as burns, bruises and cuts at various stages of healing
  • Appearing malnourished
  • A youngster who does not have control of her possessions, such as a cellphone or identification
  • A youngster who is fearful, anxious, depressed or seems out of touch
  • A youngster who is in the company of someone older who does not permit the youngster to speak to anyone
  • A youngster who appears to have been coached
  • A youngster who always wears the same clothes, which are often unclean
  • A youngster who is not free to come and go as she wishes in her living environment
  • A youngster who has a large debt that she cannot pay off
  • Anyone under the age of 18 and performs sex acts in exchange for anything of value
  • Anyone who trades commercial sex acts for food, shelter

It is important to note that a human trafficker may convince his victim that she is not actually a victim because when someone is identified as such, she may not be immediately ready to flee the lifestyle. This may be due to fear of reprisal from the trafficker or from her family.

In these cases, if you encounter a child whom you believe is or has been trafficked and if the situation does not warrant immediately contacting the police, it is often best to tell the survivor that there are counseling resources available and to provide the survivor with the Human Trafficking Hotline, 1-888-373-7888. There have been many cases when someone identifies a victim of human trafficking and works with her over a period of time to develop a plan to help the victim escape. A lot of times a survivor is hesitant to cooperate with the police, but is more willing to accept resources such as shelter that are available through the hotline.

Such a plan often includes arrangements with a shelter where the victim will be safe from the trafficker. Also, connecting the victim with the many community resources available to help her on the path to recovery. Citizens who observe potential signs of human trafficking should of course contact local law enforcement or the Human Trafficking Hotline to report their observations.

Jarrod Sadulski

Dr. Sadulski is an Associate Professor within our School of Security and Global Studies. He has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes training on countering human trafficking, maritime security, effective stress management in policing and narcotics trafficking trends in Latin America. Jarrod frequently conducts in-country research and consultant work in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He also has a background in business development. Jarrod can be reached through his website at for more information.

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