AMU Human Trafficking Law Enforcement Public Safety

How to Identify Signs of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to get victims to provide labor or services against his or her will. It is a crime that happens around the world, in both large cities and small towns.

While the true size of this problem is immeasurable, the International Labor Organization estimates there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally, including 5.5 million children. It is estimated that forced labor and human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide. It is tied with the sale of arms as the second largest criminal enterprise with drug dealing remaining the largest criminal enterprise.

[Related: Is Human Trafficking the Human Rights Issue of our Era?]

Signs of Human Trafficking

The first step to combat this crime is to learn how to recognize the signs of human trafficking. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) offers a comprehensive resource guide, but here are a few tips to help you identify potential human trafficking situations. A person could be a victim of human trafficking if he or she:

  • Appears to live and work at the same location
  • Appears unable to leave location unaccompanied
  • Shows signs of assault
  • Displays poor personal hygiene
  • Does not have access to identity documents
  • Appears to have suffered from verbal or psychological abuse
  • Are paid little or nothing at all, or only allowed to keep tips
  • Are not in control of their own money, or have very limited access to pocket money
  • Appears to work long hours with minimal or no breaks
  • Appears to owe a debt to an employer, labor recruiter/employment agency, or loan shark
  • Appears to have their communication restricted or controlled. They may not be allowed to speak for themselves, a third party may insist on interpreting, or they may seem watched or followed
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior toward law enforcement or government employees
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story
  • Appears to have been told lies or deceitful information about their work situation or marriage

If you are in law enforcement and suspect someone may be a potential victim, it’s important to ask specific questions. Here are some examples:

Trafficking Assessment Questions:


  • Did you come to the U.S. for a specific job or purpose?
  • When you arrived, did you have to do different work than you were promised?

Immigration Status:

  • Do you have personal documents such as identification papers, passports, birth certificates etc.? If not, who does?


  • Are you free to leave your employment situation? What is your understanding of what would happen if you did?
  • Are there guards or video cameras at work?
  • Did you sign a contract? What did it say?
  • Did your employer provide your shelter? What were those conditions like?
  • Do you owe money to your employer?
  • Did your boss tell you what to say if the police come or you come into contact with a social service provider?
  • Are you forced to have sex as part of your job?
  • What happens if you make a mistake at work?
  • Where and how do you keep your wages?
  • Have you been physically harmed or threatened to be harmed in any way?
  • Have you been deprived of food, water, sleep, medical care?
  • Are you allowed to buy clothes and food on your own?
  • Are there rules about coming and going?
  • Can you freely call or write your friends and family?
  • Were you permitted to learn English?
  • Do you have a spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend? What would happen if you tried to leave him/her? (Assesses for pimp control and labor exploitation of “mail order brides”)

Human trafficking is occurring in cities and towns across the United States. The most important thing you can do is realize that trafficking is happening in your area and help build local awareness about this atrocious criminal enterprise.

Leischen Kranick is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. She has 15 years of experience writing articles and producing podcasts on topics relevant to law enforcement, fire services, emergency management, private security, and national security.

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