Human Trafficking: Understanding the Red Flags

As a parent, you do everything you can to protect your children. From making them eat their veggies to monitoring their online activity, you want to help them to grow up healthy and safe. One thing that could affect the safety of a child is human trafficking. You may have heard about human trafficking on social media or the news but you may not know that children of all ages, genders and socioeconomic backgrounds can become victims of human traffickers. It’s important to know more information to protect your children and the children in your community.

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain labor or services, or to engage in commercial sex acts. While the sex trafficking of youth often makes headlines, minors are also vulnerable to labor trafficking. It is important to remember that while human trafficking is frequently highlighted as a risk in the media, it is just one part of a larger spectrum of abuse and endangerment that occurs in our society and often those most at risk of trafficking are individuals whose previous abuse, neglect, or exclusion has made them vulnerable to traffickers.

Who Do Traffickers Target?

While children from a variety of backgrounds have been victims, traffickers have been known to actively seek out children with one or more of the following risk factors:

  • Behavioral problems or mental illness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Sexual minority status (LGBTQ)
  • History of abuse or neglect
  • Exposure to intimate partner violence
  • Caregiver substance abuse or criminality
  • Poverty
  • Gang affiliation
  • Substance abuse
  • Vulnerable immigration status

Identifying Victims of Trafficking

Victims of trafficking don’t always look, act or think as you would expect. Not all victims of trafficking are kidnapped and locked away – many attend school but may have frequent absences. In fact, some victims don’t view themselves as victims at all. Many victims come from situations that they believe to be worse than being used or sold for sex or exploited for labor. They have been taught, either through experience or by the trafficker, to distrust authority. This is especially a concern for those who belong to communities who have been historically pushed to the edge of society.  And finally, they may feel shame, which is very powerful in keeping them quiet and preventing them from asking for help.

Victims of sex trafficking may be conditioned and controlled through some combination of the following methods: starvation, isolation, beatings, torture, threats of violence to victim and victim’s family, forced drug use, cultural belief and denial of medical care/medications. They may fear or “love” their trafficker or feel a connection with them.

Red Flags of Human Sex Trafficking:

  • Tattoos, burns, or scars as a form of branding
  • Having the resources (beyond what is provided by their family or a part time job) for frequent hair, nails, and/or tanning appointments
  • Hotel room keys
  • Fake ID
  • Numerous school absences
  • Dating much older, abusive or controlling men
  • Large amounts of cash, jewelry or new clothes
  • Signs of physical assault or unexplained injuries (branding or tattooing, fractures, bruising, black eyes)
  • Runaway or homeless

How to Protect Your Children

By helping your child develop and maintain good self-esteem and healthy relationships, you reduce the risk that they will be targeted by traffickers.

  • Know what your kids are doing online. Often, apps and games that seem innocent have chat features that can be misused by adults looking to make contact with children.
  • Know who your kids are with and where they are hanging out. There are obvious situations, like being on the street late at night, but adults can target kids in public places, like the mall, a park or concerts.
  • Teach your children skills for resiliency.
  • Help your child build self-esteem from an early age.
  • Maintain open communication with your child. Be someone the teens in your life can talk with.

Get Involved by Staying Educated

Beyond protecting your children and striving to be a trusted adult for the children in your life, several local and national organizations offer opportunities to educate yourself and others and raise awareness and support for victims of trafficking. Locally, Central Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition works to coordinate a community response to human trafficking through education, services, advocacy and prosecution. Nationally, help and more information is available through the Polaris Project.

If you suspect that a child is being trafficked, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 to report a tip or get help.


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