Signs that a Person Might be Trafficked

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has published a summary of human trafficking indicators. Not all indicators listed are present in all situations involving human trafficking, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators neither proves or disproves that human trafficking is taking place. For a complete list, see the United Nations Human Trafficking Indicators

Trafficked Persons may be reluctant to report or seek services because they:

  • Are threatened that if they tell anyone, they or their families will be hurt
  • May have complex relationships with their traffickers that involve deep levels of psychological conditioning based on fear or misplaced feelings of love
  • Do not see themselves as a trafficked person or victim
  • May be unfamiliar with their surroundings and do not know who to trust
  • Do not know help exists or where to get it
  • Fear law enforcement and other authorities
  • Are embarrassed or humiliated
  • May be addicted to drugs
  • May be in debt to their traffickers
  • May be sending much needed money back 'home' and worry about not being able to do this
  • Fear being deported if they are from another country

Source: OCTIP

Some signs that could indicate a minor is at risk of vulnerability to trafficking:

  • Withdraws from family and/or friends
  • Secretive and reserved with information about where they have been or with whom
  • Protective of a new boyfriend or friend and provides little information when asked about the relationship
  • Comes home later than usual for unexplained reasons
  • Wears expensive clothing and/or jewellery they could not afford to buy
  • Carries a cell phone using blocked or private phone numbers
  • Carries condoms or other sexual aids
  • Secretive about internet sites and engages in sexting or other sexual activity online
  • Inappropriate sexual or sexualized behaviour
  • Receiving unexplained gifts or gifts from unknown sources
  • Having multiple mobile phones and intense fear over losing contact via phone
  • Changes in the way they dress or behave
  • Going to hotels or other unusual locations to meet friends
  • Seen at known places of concern
  • Moving around the country, appearing in new towns or cities, not knowing where they are
  • Getting in/out of different cars driven by unknown adults
  • Involved in abusive relationships, intimidated and fearful of certain people or situations
  • Hanging out with groups of older people, or anti-social groups, or with other vulnerable peers
  • Associating with other young people involved in sexual exploitation
  • Skipping school, disengagement with school, opting out of education altogether
  • Unexplained changes in behaviour or personality (chaotic, aggressive, sexual)
  • Mood swings, volatile behaviour, emotional distress
  • Self-harming, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, overdosing, eating disorders
  • Drug or alcohol misuse
  • Getting involved in crime
  • Involved in gangs
  • Unexplained injuries

Sources: Invisible Chains by Benjamin Perrin,, NSPCC and Alberta Government Website

What to do. Who to call. 

If you suspect a minor or someone you know may be at risk, seek help immediately:

Contact a local Anti-Human Trafficking Network in your area. They should be able to provide options based on your specific situation.  

If you wish to report the crime contact your local police or Crime Stoppers 1-800-222-8477

The US National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline 1 (888) 373-7888 is a great resource.

Polaris's site has a list of hotlines and resources from across the globe.