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How do I Identify a Victim?

Members of the youth-serving community and those who regularly interact with young people are in a unique position to recognize children who may be victims of human trafficking or on the path to becoming victimized. No comprehensive list of all the signs of human trafficking exists, and children who exhibit these signs are not always trafficking victims. However, the following signs are potential indications that a young person may be a victim of human trafficking.

Signs that a youth may be a human trafficking victim:

  • Misses school on a regular basis and/or has unexplained absences
  • Frequently runs away from home
  • Makes references to frequent travel to other cities or towns
  • Exhibits bruises or other signs of physical trauma, withdrawn behavior, depression, anxiety, or fear
  • Lacks control over her or his schedule and/or identification or travel documents
  • Is hungry, malnourished, or inappropriately dressed (based on weather conditions or surroundings)
  • Shows signs of drug addiction
  • Has coached/rehearsed responses to questions

Additional signs that may indicate sex trafficking:

  • Demonstrates a sudden change in attire, behavior, relationships, or material possessions (e.g., has expensive items)
  • Is uncharacteristically promiscuous and/or makes references to sexual situations or terminology that are beyond age-specific norms
  • Has a “boyfriend” or a “girlfriend” who is noticeably older
  • Attempts to conceal recent scars
  • Shows a sudden change in attention to personal hygiene

Signs of human trafficking that may be observed during travel:

  • Has a travel companion who controls documents, tickets, and movement
  • Avoids eye contact with travel companion
  • Lacks knowledge of travel plans and destination

If you observe someone, a youth or an adult, demonstrating these signs, it can be helpful to ask clarifying questions in a safe and confidential environment to help you determine whether that person is a victim of human trafficking. The Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Rescue and Restore Campaign Tool Kits provide tip sheets for health care providers, social service organizations, and law enforcement to help identify victims; screening questions to assess whether a person is a victim of human trafficking; information on communicating with victims and understanding their mindset; and more.

If you suspect that someone is a victim of human trafficking, it is important to report your suspicions. Learn more about how to report suspected instances of human trafficking and the federal resources and efforts to support victims, prevent abuse, and prosecute offenders.

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