Too often, sex traffickers are able to keep their victims in the web of exploitation because sex trafficking can be hard to identify.
It's important to understand there are patterns and signs that can help identify the perpetrators and help the victims receive help. Victims of sex trafficking are often vulnerable because of homelessness, poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental or physical disability or lack of legal immigration status. These are all contributing factors when identifying those who may be most vulnerable to domestic sex trafficking.
It's easy to think human trafficking is limited to certain segments of society; however, it's vital to remember that vulnerability to being trafficked knows no boundaries. Traffickers often prey on people who hope for a better life, lack employment opportunities, have an unstable home life or have a history of sexual abuse. These are characteristics that are present across age, socio-economic status, nationality and level of education.
Age is one of the most significant factors in a child being vulnerable to sex trafficking. Pre-teen or adolescent girls are more susceptible to the calculated advances, deception and manipulation tactics used by traffickers and pimps; however, no youth is exempt from falling prey to these tactics. Traffickers target locations youth frequent, such as schools, malls, parks, bus stops, shelters and group homes.
Traffickers also prey on runaways and at-risk youth. Within 48 hours of running away from home, a young person is likely to be bought or sold for prostitution or some kind of commercial sexual exploitation. Pimps and sex traffickers are skilled at manipulating child victims and maintaining control through a combination of deception, lies, feigned affection, threats and violence.
If you — or perhaps your school-age child — are concerned about someone you know, consider these warning signs (compliments of Shared Hope International) that an individual is being trafficked:
- Signs of physical abuse, such as burn marks, bruises or cuts
- Unexplained absences from class
- Less appropriately dressed than before
- Sexualized behavior
- Overly tired in class
- Withdrawn, depressed, distracted or checked out
- Brags about making or having lots of money
- Displays expensive clothes, accessories or shoes
- New tattoo (tattoos are often used by pimps as a way to brand victims. Tattoos of a name, symbol of money or barcode could indicate trafficking)
- Older boyfriend or new friends with a different lifestyle
- Talks about wild parties or invites other students to attend parties
- Shows signs of gang affiliation (i.e., a preference for specific colors, notebook doodles of gang symbols, etc.)
If you see any of these signs or suspect a young person is being trafficked, please don't wait — use these phone numbers to report a tip or connect with anti-trafficking services in your area.
If you'd like to read more about recognizing the signs of sex trafficking, check out this resource from The Polaris Project.
 "Defining and Identifying Human Trafficking," American Bar Association http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/multimedia/trafficking_task_force/resources/Defining_and_Identifying_Human_Trafficking.authcheckdam.pdf