AMU Human Trafficking Law Enforcement Original Public Safety

The Transportation Industry and Mitigating Human Trafficking

By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice

The transportation industry is often on the front lines of human trafficking, because victims are commonly transported to different locations during their exploitation. For instance, victims may be transported in cars, trucks, vans, airplanes, trains or ships.

Everyone connected to the transportation industry can play an important role in recognizing and reporting suspicious activity that may be related to human trafficking. Human trafficking commonly involves sex trafficking, forced labor and domestic servitude.

Victims are usually coerced into human trafficking through a grooming process that often involves false promises, the trafficker’s vow to care for the victim, lavish gifts or threats of violence.

Related link: Gaining Insight into the Mentality of Human Traffickers

Sex Trafficking, Forced Labor and Victim Recruitment at Transportation Facilities

Sex trafficking and forced labor are the most common forms of human trafficking connected to the transportation industry.

According to the Polaris Project, a champion in the battle against human trafficking, traffickers may recruit their victims from bus and train stations. They commonly use transportation systems to deliver their victims to trafficking operations.

The Polaris Project also notes that escort services engaged in sex trafficking may use rental vehicles, buses, trains, and airlines to access different commercial sex markets and exploit their victims. For instance, sex trafficking massage networks use private taxi drivers to transport victims between brothels, and informal bus systems are ideal recruitment grounds for traffickers associated with these illicit massage networks.

Air travel is popular in human trafficking as well. Victims can be quickly taken out of their home states and the identification of missing children is unlikely in airports. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and airport personnel do not require children to show identification when they travel to a domestic location with an adult.

Related link: Intel Analyst Skills Help Police Find Missing Children

Recognizing Human Trafficking Signs in the Transportation Industry

Everyone involved in the transportation industry can play an important role in recognizing the signs of human trafficking. Some indicators of human trafficking include:

  • Physical abuse such as unusual bruises and injuries at various stages of healing
  • Children who appear coached on what to say when speaking
  • Interstate travel that involves minors and adults who are not family members
  • Travelers who show signs of being denied food, water, sleep or medical care
  • Someone who is unusually timid and scared to speak with airport staff or flight attendants
  • Someone who refuses to answer basic questions and consistently defers questions to someone else
  • Travelers who are not carrying any luggage or other personal items
  • Travelers who do not have identification in their possession
  • Travelers who are subjected to unreasonable security measures by their travel companion(s)
  • Travelers who are unwilling to make eye contact with transportation staff and are unusually frightened by their presence
  • Travelers who provide what appears to be false documentation
  • A group of males or females with identical tattoos in the same location. These tattoos are consistent with victim branding, which is common in human trafficking. 
  • Females who dress inappropriately for their age or wear poor-quality clothing compared to others in their party
  • Travelers who appear neglected in terms of not being properly cared for or malnourished 

Improving Responses to Human Trafficking in the Transportation Industry

There are various strategies the transportation industry can adopt to rescue victims of human trafficking. For instance:

  • Training should be provided for all transportation industry staff on the most specific types of trafficking that is likely to occur in their sector. For instance, training for aviation staff is likely to be different than training for commercial truck drivers.
  • Educational resources should be available in the workplace to serve as a refresher course on the indicators of human trafficking.
  • Company policy should be developed on how to recognize and report indicators of human trafficking.
  • When human trafficking is suspected, all security camera footage should be preserved for law enforcement.
  • When a group of people behaves suspiciously, that behavior should be documented and reported.
  • Signs could be posted in public restrooms to invite human trafficking victims to reach out for help from transportation staff. These signs could be provided in different languages.
  • Unusual or suspicious activity in truck stops and gas station parking lots should be reported to law enforcement. This reporting is especially essential if females are wearing clothing that is not appropriate for the weather conditions and mingling with others among parked vehicles, or they appear to be underage.

Everyone in the transportation industry can help to reduce the number of human trafficking victims. If you suspect someone may be a victim, contact the Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate criminal justice professor in the School of Security and Global Studies and has over two decades in the field of homeland security. His expertise includes human trafficking, maritime security and narcotics trafficking trends. Jarrod recently conducted in-country research in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in human and narcotics trafficking. Jarrod can be reached through his website at for more information.

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