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  2. How Do I Identify a Victim?

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  • Exhibits bruises or other signs of physical trauma, withdrawn behavior, depression, anxiety, or fear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.


Support for Child Victims and Witnesses of Human Trafficking   
This set of graphic novels is now available to help young trafficking survivors, ages 2–18, navigate the justice system as a victim or witness. These resources help youth understand the justice system, their rights, and roles of different practitioners. Practitioner and Caregiver Guides and excerpts of support from individuals with lived experience are included.

Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance Center
The REMS TA Center offers a variety of federal agency partner resources related to planning for adversarial- and human-caused threats, including human trafficking, that may affect school districts, schools, institutions of higher education, community partners, and parents.

Human Trafficking 101 for School Administrators and Staff
The U.S. Department of Education, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Blue Campaign, created this fact sheet, which provides the essential information about human trafficking that is important for school personnel to understand and be mindful of.

A Training Guide for Administrators and Educators on Addressing Adult Sexual Misconduct in the School Setting
This training guide, developed by the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center for the U.S. Department of Education and the Office of Safe and Healthy Students, details the intricacies of adult sexual misconduct (ASM) in schools, which can include human trafficking. This guide is designed to be a resource for school officials to be able to identify signs of ASM and outlines the methods for addressing this occurrence.

Webinar: Integrating Human Trafficking with School Emergency Operations Plans (EOPS) for K-12 Schools
This webinar from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Safe and Healthy Students, along with its Readiness and Emergency Management Technical Assistance Center, explored the topic of integrating human trafficking with school emergency operations plans (EOPs).

Integrating Human Trafficking with School Emergency Operations Plans (EOPS)
This resource list from the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center provides information on webinars on how to develop high-quality EOPs that can assist with preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and helping children recover from human trafficking–related crimes.


Youth Briefs

How Individualized Education Program (IEP) Transition Planning Makes a Difference for Youth with Disabilities

Youth who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and especially young adults of transition age, should be involved in planning for life after high school as early as possible and no later than age 16. Transition services should stem from the individual youth’s needs and strengths, ensuring that planning takes into account his or her interests, preferences, and desires for the future.

Youth Transitioning to Adulthood: How Holding Early Leadership Positions Can Make a Difference

Research links early leadership with increased self-efficacy and suggests that leadership can help youth to develop decision making and interpersonal skills that support successes in the workforce and adulthood. In addition, young leaders tend to be more involved in their communities, and have lower dropout rates than their peers. Youth leaders also show considerable benefits for their communities, providing valuable insight into the needs and interests of young people

How Trained Service Professionals and Self-Advocacy Makes a Difference for Youth with Mental Health, Substance Abuse, or Co-occurring Issues

Statistics reflecting the number of youth suffering from mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders highlight the necessity for schools, families, support staff, and communities to work together to develop targeted, coordinated, and comprehensive transition plans for young people with a history of mental health needs and/or substance abuse.

Young Adults Formerly in Foster Care: Challenges and Solutions

Nearly 30,000 youth aged out of foster care in Fiscal Year 2009, which represents nine percent of the young people involved in the foster care system that year. This transition can be challenging for youth, especially youth who have grown up in the child welfare system.

Coordinating Systems to Support Transition Age Youth with Mental Health Needs

Research has demonstrated that as many as one in five children/youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Read about how coordination between public service agencies can improve treatment for these youth.

Civic Engagement Strategies for Transition Age Youth

Civic engagement has the potential to empower young adults, increase their self-determination, and give them the skills and self-confidence they need to enter the workforce. Read about one youth’s experience in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).