What Are the Signs of Trafficking?
Human trafficking can happen in any industry, and to persons of any gender, age, and nationality. Stereotypes seen in media are not always representative of real-life situations. However, some common red flags to look out for include:
- Person shows signs of abuse, malnourishment, exhaustion, or fearfulness.
- Person is not being paid, being paid very little, or is working excessive hours or in dangerous working conditions.
- Person is not allowed to leave home or premises or is closely supervised and restricted in movement.
- Person does not have access to personal documents such as ID, passport, visa, or social security card.
- Person is under 18 and is working in the commercial sex industry.
Again, this list is not comprehensive, and each individual experience is different.
What should I do if I suspect someone is being trafficked?
Contact a Freedom Network USA member in your area
Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at
If you believe someone is in immediate danger,
please call 9-1-1
When workers are trapped and feeling like they have to keep working for someone even if they don’t want to.
They can be working alongside non-trafficked workers in legal jobs, work under the table or for no pay in legal businesses, or be forced to commit criminal acts that benefit someone else. The traffickers can be their family members, strangers, or friends. They may be trapped by violence, threats of deportation, threats against their family members, or manipulation of their medical conditions. Labor traffickers most often target immigrants, both those with legal status and those without, but they also prey on vulnerable US Citizens.
When a minor (under 18) is given anything in exchange for any sex act OR when an adult (over 18) is trapped or forced into commercial sex by someone else.
Because sex work is generally illegal in the US, sex trafficking victims are often unwilling to seek help and are sometimes refused assistance and protection. Traffickers can be family members, including parents and spouses, friends, and partners. Traffickers often manipulate a person’s isolation, substance use, or dependence, in addition to using violence and threats. Both immigrants and US Citizens are victims of sex trafficking.
Trafficking by Gender and Type
Human trafficking can happen to men, women, and children of any age, race, sexual orientation, or country of origin. Trafficking happens in many different sectors including construction, agriculture, domestic work, commercial sex, hospitality, and many more. Often, human trafficking is framed as a crime that only impacts women who are forced into prostitution, which results in solutions that leave out many who need help.
The Human Rights-Based Approach
Human trafficking is a violation of an individual’s basic rights and personal freedom.
Successful approaches to address trafficking must protect all the rights of survivors and respect their individual agency. Focusing on the rights of each individual and advocating for change in systems is the only path to restoring their dignity and giving them the opportunity they deserve to pursue a better life. Other approaches to human trafficking work may overlook populations who experience trafficking, use prevention strategies that don’t get to the root of what makes people vulnerable, or may respect the individual agency of survivors. Since its inception, Freedom Network USA has focused on policy solutions and services that support every client as a whole person.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is human trafficking?
Federal law defines a ‘severe form of trafficking in persons’ as:
- Sex Trafficking: The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act which is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or
- Labor Trafficking: The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion, for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.
What is not human trafficking?
Human trafficking is often conflated with other crimes, such as smuggling or prostitution. Smuggling is a voluntary agreement to be moved across a border illegally. Once the border is crossed, the relationship ends, and the person being moved is not forced to provide any labor or services, or forced to engage in any sex acts. Smuggling may be an element of human trafficking when, for example, a smuggler suddenly increases the fees and forces the person being moved to work off this new “debt.” Similarly, consensual adult sex workers are voluntarily engaging in commercial sex. Absent force, fraud, or coercion, adult sex workers are not human trafficking victims. Under federal law, however, any minor (under 18) engaged in commercial sex is considered a victim; but many states continue to also arrest these minors on prostitution charges.
Who are victims of human trafficking?
Human trafficking impacts people of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientations and nationalities. This includes men, boys, older persons, and US citizens. However, people are made disproportionately vulnerable to trafficking by discrimination (especially against LGBTQ youth), disability, unlawful immigration status, poverty, and prior abuse (including child abuse and sexual assault). People are trafficked in a variety of sectors including domestic work, agriculture, restaurants, manufacturing, the sex trade, and construction, among many others.
How do human trafficking victims come to the US?
It is important to note that US Citizens are trafficked every day without ever crossing a border. Many foreign-born survivors come to the US on visas for workers, visitors, or cultural purposes. Often the visa sponsor or employer is actually a trafficker. Once in the US, the trafficker refuses to comply with the agreed upon wages and living conditions, usually takes the workers passport, and often will not allow the worker to communicate with family and friends. The survivor may have little understanding of the immigration system and the trafficker will threaten deportation or harm to the worker or their family members.
How many people are victims of human trafficking every year?
Data on the prevalence of human trafficking is limited and unreliable due to the hidden nature of the crime. Currently, the most reliable data comes from government sources; including the investigation and prosecution data in the Trafficking in Persons Report from the US State Department and grant data (reporting the number of identified survivors served by grantees) from the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime and the Department of Health and Human Services Office on Trafficking in Persons.
Please download our Press Kit for a full list of frequently asked questions.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) is the cornerstone of the US approach to human trafficking. The law has been reauthorized, expanded and updated several times. The TVPA defines human trafficking, provides funding and programs for survivors, establishes criminal charges and sentences for traffickers, and describes the responsibilities of the federal government to address human trafficking.
The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act was enacted in 2014 to require child welfare agencies to identify youth within their systems who are at risk of sex trafficking or are survivors of sex trafficking, to develop policies and procedures to properly document and respond to the needs of these youth, and to report suspected sex trafficking victimization to law enforcement. Notably absent from this legislation are any similar protections for youth survivors of labor trafficking.
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 (JVTA) added several new programs and protections, including the US Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, which includes 8-14 human trafficking survivors who are appointed by the President to develop recommendations for the federal government. Also, the Domestic Trafficking Victims Fund which collects a new penalty paid by those convicted of several crimes plus funds transferred from the Community Health Centers to support services for child pornography victims and human trafficking victims. Also requires the Attorney General to implement and maintain a National Strategy for Combating Human Trafficking, which includes all forms of trafficking of youth and adults. And revises the federal definition of child abuse (CAPTA) to include sex trafficking. Notably, many of the programs and protections are limited to survivors of sex trafficking, which neglects the needs of labor trafficking victims.