Seven years ago, I was handed a book by a friend of mine with some urgency and importance. I looked at the cover and put it on the shelf to read later. The book was Rescuing Hope by Susan Norris and the topic was sex trafficking in America. And like most Americans, 7 years ago, I did not think this was a relevant topic to the majority of American females. I was horribly wrong. And it’s happening in communities big and small across our nation. The victims are hiding right in plain sight and we are the front line.
Please watch this short video and see if you can spot the trafficking victims. How many did you see? Were you shocked at the signs that were right in front of your eyes and you didn’t even notice? Me too!
A member of our research team, Quadri Abdur, put together this piece which offers guidance on identifying these “hidden” trafficking victims and helping authorities stop this human slavery.
How to Identify Human Trafficking In Your Community
Despite the growing global awareness, human trafficking in America is still a dirty little secret operating in plain daylight. According to the UNODC report on human trafficking, sexual exploitation is the most common form of human trafficking (79%). The majority of the victims of sexual exploitation are young girls and women. Forced labor is the second most common form, and it constitutes about 18%.
What’s more, this insidious epidemic happens in restaurants, factories, farms, nail salon, and hotels in all of our communities and neighborhoods. While these victims may have a seemingly legal job, they are often mistreated and overworked for little or no pay.
Unfortunately, many local governments are still not fully educated and equipped on the true scope of this epidemic. It is quite sad to know that there is even reluctance when it comes to reporting or prosecuting human trafficking cases, for fear of retaliation by the criminal organizations running these operations. This is why individuals – You and I – must step up efforts to help combat this inhumane act. Here are some common indicators to help identify victims of human trafficking in your community:
One of the obvious signs of human trafficking is tattoo branding. People often get tattoos to show who or what they love. However, in the human trafficking rings, a tattoo is being used to brand men, women, or children regarded as their human "property." These tattoos indicate that the victim belongs to a particular trafficker. Common trafficking tattoos include dollar signs, the “owner’s” initials or brand logo, barcodes, and even the price it costs to prostitute the woman or child. Common places to see these tattoos are in the private region, on the neck, arm, or lower back. Medical staff of any sort should be trained to know what these tattoos look like and what to say to a suspected sex trafficking victim to help her and not scare her away.
Signs of Physical Abuse and Injuries
Unusual or recurring physical injuries can be another sign of a trafficking victim. Such trafficking victims often suffer from severe physical abuse, injuries, exhaustion, bruises, burns, work-related injuries, and so forth. In fact, some of these injuries can lead to severe health problems which can be physical, reproductive, or mental. If you notice a victim with any of these physical warning signs, be sure to report it to the appropriate authorities immediately.
Avoiding Eye Contact
Furthermore, human trafficking victims will often avoid physical eye contact during one-on-one conversations or social interactions. They often will also try to avoid authority figures and law enforcement agents. Sadly, they are only acting based on the instruction, warning, or threat given to them by their trafficker/owner.
Poor Mental Health
Victims of human trafficking are often subjected to torture and inhumane treatment. Over time, this affects their mental health. Thus, they start exhibiting abnormal behavior. The victim can exhibit unusually fearful, depressed, submissive, anxious, or paranoid behavior. At any mention or reference to law enforcement, the victim may react with anxious or fearful behavior.
Human trafficking victims are frequently trained to adhere strictly to a scripted or rehearsed response during social interactions. They may have inconsistencies in their story. In fact, they may not even know what city or state they are in. They are controlled completely and they only do or know what they are told.
Working Excessively Long Hours
What’s more, victims of human trafficking are usually made to work for excessively long hours. They are required to work and serve their master under horrific conditions, sexual abuse and/or hard labor. The victims of modern slavery and are often lured into servitude via one of three paths. If they are illegal immigrants, they may be required to repay their smuggler for safe passage into America in the form of indentured servitude. What shocks most people is that many victims of sex trafficking in the U.S. are every day, average American girls and boys themselves. Some even go to school and live at home, while being trafficked on the weekends! They are lured in by the promises of a sexual predator (often online) to meet an unfilled need for acceptance and love that is missing inside of them. Lastly, some sex trafficking victims are just flat out kidnapped. Victims of both forms of human trafficking may be found doing factory work, performing farm labor, domestic servitude, in restaurants, salons and even family-owned businesses. All are forced to remain in bondage due to the power/control their handler extorts over their lives. This can be done in several common ways such as keeping them indebted for the food or shelter provided all the way to indebtedness for an addiction habit that has been nurtured by the human trafficker to create a dependency.
Poor Living Conditions
Service workers such as repairmen, garbage collection and utility company employees should be particularly aware of the living conditions at the homes that they service. If there is an oddly large “family” living in a home, or 8 young females living in poor conditions- these would be things that aren’t the norm. Remember, the trafficker only has interest in providing them with the bare minimum necessary to keep them healthy enough to not draw unwanted attention, attractive enough to turn a profit for sex, and alive enough to use them up. The victims of trafficking often have no possessions and may even be living and working on site.
Human trafficking cartels or individuals involved in trafficking take security of their “investment” very seriously. The biggest security measure they take is through the emotional and mental control of the victim. Power and control are the human trafficker’s M.O. A fearful, addicted, dependent or extorted victim is not a flight risk. On the physical level, you may also see unusually high security at a home that is holding victims. For example, if you see deadbolts on interior doors that lock people INSIDE rooms or opaque house windows- these may be signs that victims of trafficking are being held at that location.
Lack of Control
To control trafficking victims and prevent them from escaping, the owner of the victims confiscates the victim’s identification documents (driver’s license, passport, ID card). Most human trafficking victims have no valid ID card, no money, no financial records, no bank account, and are often bought and sold between traffickers like a product! Every move is controlled. Some signs you may watch out for would be:
- Inability to provide a valid form of ID.
- Inability to make decisions without asking someone else first (i.e. their handler)
- Turning down invitations to socialize for no valid reason.
- Needing another’s permission to speak up or answer questions.
- May seem hesitant or afraid that they might say the wrong thing and receive disapproval from the handler.
- Not being able to speak on their own. There is a third-party present insisting on translating for the victim. This is another red flag you should always look out for.
There you have it! Above are some of the red flags that you can use to identify the victims of human trafficking in your community. Human trafficking victims are often powerless. The buying, selling and moving of modern slavery victims is so sly that it is hiding in plain sight. We are the front line to battling this evil and bringing them to accountability. It is our duty to help identify and assist these victims. If you believe you may know a victim of human trafficking or may have useful information about a potential human trafficking ring, do not hesitate to contact the local police, the Department of Homeland Security and/or the FBI. Unite your community and join Defense Divas in bringing the perpetrators of such insidious act to justice.
Defend yourself today from being a victim of sex trafficking, domestic violence, rape and burglar attacks with our self-defense products. At Defense Divas, we offer you a vast selection of self-defense products for women including Bulletproof Clothing & Accessories, Stun Guns, Tasers, Pepper Sprays, Concealed Carry Purses, and Campus Safety products. We also offer an extensive education resource on personal self-defense training and safety awareness.
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