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Tips on How to Identify Potential Human Trafficking Victims

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Human trafficking is modern-day slavery with victims providing labor or services through force, fraud or coercion. This crime is happening everywhere, from large cities to small towns around the world.

The true size of this problem is immeasurable, but the Northern Tier Anti-Trafficking Consortium (NTAC) estimates that 800,000 individuals are trafficked across international borders every year and 27 woman sitting in jailmillion people are enslaved across the world. On a global scale, human trafficking is estimated to be a $32 BILLION business, and tied with the sales of arms as the second largest criminal enterprise worldwide. Drug dealing remains the largest criminal enterprise.

On the street level, what can the average officer do to help stop human trafficking? The first step is to learn how to recognize it. Here are some tips to help you identify potential human trafficking victims.

It could be a trafficking situation if a suspected victim:

  • 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 suspect a person may be a victim of trafficking, take the time to investigate further. It’s important to ask these individuals 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 and it’s important for law enforcement officers at all levels to know the signs of this crime.

If you are interested in getting involved in the fight against human trafficking on a wider global scale, consider attending the Together Let’s Stop Traffick summit being held in Charles Town, West Virginia on November 17-20. An objective of this summit is to bring together local and international leaders to help build the world’s first fully integrated global resource center to combat human trafficking. This center will help collect and share intelligence as well as best practices with agencies and organization around the globe. Join the fight today.

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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