How to identify victims of sex trafficking

Learning to recognize and identify victims of trafficking is crucial and can mean the difference between saving a life and losing one.

WASHINGTON, DC, December 6, 2012 - For law enforcement and medical personnel who may come in contact with victims of human trafficking more often than others, learning to recognize and identify victims of trafficking is crucial and can mean the difference between saving a life and losing one.

However, it can be difficult to identify trafficking victims.  Below are some visible signs that may be used to help identify victims of human trafficking and questions that law enforcement, medical personnel, school and shelter personnel, and even the general public can use to help to identify victims of human trafficking.  Recognizing that someone has been trafficked can be the first step in saving their life.

The following signs are by no means a comprehensive list, but they are a starting point for identifying trafficking victims:

Unusual absences from school and running away from home.
References about travel to other cities.
Withdrawn behavior and fear.
Much older boyfriend/friends.
Lacking control over his/her own schedule and lack of identification.
Signs of drug addiction.
Sudden changes in clothing and acquisition of expensive items such as electronics.
Hungry or malnourished.
Dressed inappropriately for the surroundings or weather.
Talks about sexual situations that are much too ‘old’ for their age, uses street terms for trafficking such as ‘the life’ ‘the track’.
Previously untreated medical conditions like broken bones, bruises and cuts.
Branding by burning/cutting or tattoos, signs of torture cuts and scarring.

Above all else, listen to your heart.  If something feels wrong, it most likely is.  Listen to what the potential victim is saying and ask questions.  Some questions to help identify a victim of sex trafficking include:

Why aren’t you speaking for yourself? Who is the person with you here?
What work are you doing? Are you being paid? How are you being paid? Where is the money you are being paid?
Can you leave your job? Are you being held against your will?
Are you being threatened?
Where do you live?
Do you have identification? If not, why?
Why are you so nervous? What are you afraid of? Who are you afraid of?

Paying attention to signs and symptoms can make a significant difference in the life of a trafficking victim.  Being aware could literally save their life.


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Barbara Amaya

As a survivor of human trafficking Barbara Amaya speaks and writes from her experiences as a trafficked child. She has been published in varied media like Yahoo Voices! More magazine and her story of overcoming adversity has been featured on Fox News, Channel 4, Examiner, Animal New York, Washington Times and more.

She has a book in progress, A Girl’s Guide to Survival: Life Lessons from the Street, and has written a graphic novel about human trafficking targeted for middle and high school age students, you can get updates about Barbara her books and her activities in the anti-trafficking community at her website www.barbaraamaya.com follow her on twitter barbaraamaya4 and on facebook, linkedin and google + and pinterest

Contact Barbara Amaya

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