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Spotlight on Human Trafficking: How to Join the Fight

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), 24.9 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking. However, what’s surprising to many is that trafficking isn’t just isolated to a few hard-hit countries—it happens in every region of the world, including industrialized and developed societies.

In fact, an estimated 400,000 women, men, and children in the United States are forced, threatened, exploited, or induced into performing labor, services, or commercial sex acts against their will. Despite the alarming numbers, human trafficking can be a very challenging crime to identify. It impacts every social class, race, and gender, but with annual global profits of nearly $150 billion, perpetrators profit by using psychological and physical manipulation and abuse to keep victims from speaking out.

Fortunately, as awareness increases, so too does our ability to stop these heinous crimes. This guide aims to raise awareness by explaining the types and signs of human trafficking, discussing who is most at risk, shedding light on common myths and statistics, and showing how everyone can get involved and join the fight.

What Is Human Trafficking?

While human trafficking is nuanced and involves a wide variety of forms, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) defines it as:

  1. “Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act 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
  2. 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.”

Also widely called “trafficking in persons” and “modern slavery,” human trafficking is the practice of exploiting and enslaving victims to perform forced labor or sex acts for others’ financial or personal gain. Modern slavery is an umbrella term that refers to any exploitive situation where a person can’t leave because of violence, threats, coercion, abuse of power, or deception.

Contrary to popular belief, human trafficking doesn’t solely involve moving people from one state or country to another—many victims are born into servitude or become trafficked where they already reside.

Core Elements of Human Trafficking

The Action-Means-Purpose (AMP) Model can help identify and define trafficking. When a situation includes one element from each column, it’s classified as human trafficking. For instance, a trafficker takes one or more of the below Actions utilizing a Means for a particular Purpose:

Action-Means-Purpose (AMP) Model of Human Trafficking

Take Action

  • Induces
  • Recruits
  • Harbors
  • Transports
  • Provides
  • Obtains

Utilize Means

  • Force
  • Fraud
  • Coercion

For a Purpose

  • Commercial Sex
  • Labor/Services

Minors induced into commercial sex are considered victims of human trafficking, even without the presence of force, fraud, or coercion.

Force

Physical violence, including physical restraint, is used to control victims and break down their resistance. Examples of force include beatings, physical confinement, sexual assault, and rape.

Fraud

Traffickers make false, fraudulent promises about wages, employment, marriage, working and living conditions, and education. These promises lure and manipulate victims into forced labor and other trafficking situations.

Coercion

By threatening to harm victims or their loved ones, perpetrators coerce victims into trafficking situations. Traffickers use psychological manipulation, confiscate documents, or otherwise make people believe that failure to perform an act will result in harmful consequences.

Polaris, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting and preventing human trafficking, explains that there is no one method of force, fraud, and coercion. Traffickers can gain power and control by using a variety of methods on victims—including intimidation, isolation, denial, blaming, economic abuse, privilege, minimizing, and emotional abuse.

Types of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking falls into two main categories: sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Within those broad categories are subcategories and many specific types of trafficking.

Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking is when a person—through force, fraud, or coercion—engages in a commercial sex act. In some cases, victims are forced into prostitution to pay off some sort of alleged debt incurred as a result of the individual’s recruitment, transportation, or sale. Even if an adult initially consents to prostitution, when traffickers force them to continue, it becomes human trafficking.

In 2016, 4.8 million people worldwide experienced forced sexual exploitation—comprising 19% of all trafficking victims—according to the ILO and the Walk Free Foundation’s Global Estimates of Modern Slavery report. A staggering 99% of sex trafficking victims around the world are women and girls.

Although there’s no official estimate of the number of sex trafficking victims in the U.S., in its 2019 Data Report, Polaris reports identifying 14,597 victims in 2019 from 8,248 sex trafficking situations. The top three types of sex trafficking were escort services; illicit massage, health, and beauty businesses; and pornography.

How does sex trafficking happen?

Sarah, a young adult, met a new boyfriend who showered her with attention and treated her better than any boyfriend ever had. He had no job but seemed always to have money. She trusted him, and he introduced her to one of his friends. Several weeks later, she got into a car with this new “friend” after work, thinking nothing of it. She was taken to a house, repeatedly raped, beaten, force-fed narcotics, kept in a dog crate, and sold for sex over the Internet. She managed to escape after a month of being trafficked for sex. It turned out the “boyfriend” searched for vulnerable women to date and then sold them to a trafficker.

Child Sex Trafficking

Any time a child under 18 is recruited, induced, enticed, or solicited to perform a commercial sex act, they are victims of human trafficking. Force, fraud, and coercion do not need to be present to classify them as such, as the use of children in commercial sex is strictly prohibited under U.S. law and in most countries. Of the 4.8 million victims of forced sexual exploitation in the world, 1 million are children. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 girls and boys are at risk of becoming victims of sex trafficking each year.

Although a common misconception is that children are kidnapped into child sex trafficking, less than 10% who end up in sexually exploitive situations are taken by force. Children are much more likely to be trafficked by people they know and those who build trust with and manipulate them into sexual exploitation.

How does child sex trafficking happen?

When 10-year-old Ted’s mother began dating a new man, Ted thought he seemed attentive and nice. After spending months using the mom to get closer to Ted and earning his trust, the man then forced the boy to engage in commercial sex by using physical abuse, drugs, and threats. It wasn’t until Ted tried, and failed, to commit suicide that he spoke up about his situation.

Labor Trafficking

Labor trafficking is when a person is forced, defrauded, or coerced into working or providing services. Some of the most common businesses and industries involved in labor trafficking include domestic work, agriculture, cleaning services, carnivals, and restaurants.

According to the ILO’s report, 21 million people worldwide were victims of labor trafficking in 2016. Polaris identified 4,934 labor trafficking victims in the U.S. in 2019 from 1,236 unique situations involving domestic work, agriculture and animal husbandry, and traveling sales crews.

Forced Labor

Forced labor includes using force, fraud, or coercion to induce a victim to work for an employer. Although the work situation often appears legitimate and lucrative at first, victims of forced labor may eventually:

  • Feel pressured to stay in a job or situation
  • Not be getting paid what they were promised
  • Have no control over their identity documents
  • Be living in dangerous or inhumane employer-provided conditions
  • Be isolated and cut off from others
  • Be working without proper equipment
  • Seem to be constantly monitored
  • Be threatened with deportation

How does forced labor happen?

Rob, a young adult male, joined a traveling sales crew that promised good wages selling magazines door-to-door. His crew had to work early in the morning until very late at night every day, and if they didn’t meet their daily quotas, the manager denied them food or made them sleep outside on the street. Rob’s manager also physically assaulted him during his time on the crew.

Debt Bondage

Also known as bonded labor, debt bondage is when traffickers use debt as a means of control to keep individuals trapped. In this labor trafficking situation, traffickers tell victims they have to work to pay off the debt, which usually comes with unreasonable interest rates and other inflated terms. The debt often grows at such a rate that victims can’t ever catch up, making the debt—and bondage—last for generations.

How does debt bondage happen?

Chinnawat traveled from Thailand as an H-2A guest worker to do farm work in North Carolina. He had to take on debt for his $11,250 “recruitment fee,” but after work dried up several weeks into his stay, he had no way to pay back his debt and was told he couldn’t leave the farm. Threats of violence kept workers scared to leave. His employers provided very poor living situations, housing up to seven workers in one hotel room or making them sleep in a crowded barn with mice and insects.

Domestic Servitude

Domestic servitude often impacts people on temporary work visas who come to the U.S. to provide in-home cooking, cleaning, and caretaking services for a family. In this type of trafficking, victims have to work 12-18 hours per day with little to no pay while being isolated from the outside world. Victims may experience sexual harassment, physical abuse, debt bondage, and document confiscation. Some employers will allow a victim’s visa to expire and hold their undocumented status over them.

How does domestic servitude happen?

Lea came to the United States to work as a nanny, with a promise of a good salary and paid living expenses. Upon arrival, her employer took her passport and said she would also be cooking and cleaning (in addition to childcare), and she’d have to work from 5:00 am to 1:00 am. She was threatened with deportation if she tried to leave the house and beaten when she complained about getting paid less than half of what her employer promised.

Forced Marriage

Forced marriage is when one or both parties are married without consent, usually because of financial and emotional threats, coercion, or pressure. Forced marriage can be a combination of sex trafficking and domestic servitude, depending on the specific circumstances. According to the ILO, 15.4 million people were forced into marriages in 2016, 13 million of whom were women and girls.

Child Marriage

Child marriage before the age of 18 is a particular problem around the world, including in the United States. According to Unchained At Last, an organization dedicated to ending child marriage in the U.S., nearly 300,000 minors became legally married between 2000 and 2018 in the United States—almost always (86%) a younger girl marrying an adult man.

Children forced into marriage face limited options when it comes to finding a shelter to escape abuse, retaining an attorney, or filing for divorce—which usually requires the cooperation of a legal guardian. And, although the federal criminal code prohibits sex with a child who is 12 to 15 years old, it specifically exempts people who marry the child first. “This incentivizes child marriage and implicitly endorses child rape,” explains Unchained At Last.

What’s more, federal immigration law doesn’t dictate a minimum age to petition for a foreign spouse or receive a spousal visa. This lack of regulations allows American girls to be trafficked for their citizenship and for children from other parts of the world to be trafficked to the U.S. under the appearance of marriage. Child marriage is legal in 44 states, and nine states don’t even specify a minimum age for marriage.

Did you know? The United States approved almost 9,000 marriage petitions involving a minor between 2007 and 2017.

How does child marriage happen?

Genevieve had an isolated upbringing in Ohio and endured physical and sexual abuse in her early years. When her mother found her talking to a predatory 43-year-old neighbor man when she was 14, she forced Genevieve to marry him for fear that she’d get pregnant. She was married in Mississippi by age 15 and couldn’t legally file for divorce until age 18, so Genevieve spent four years dealing with her husband’s excessive drinking and constant problems before finally leaving him at age 19.

Spotlight: PolarisProject.org

Polaris created The Typology of Modern Slavery using data from more than 32,000 human trafficking cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline over six years to determine the 25 types of human trafficking in the United States.

PolarisProject.org human traficking
Image source PolarisProject.org

Human Trafficking Myths

Many common misconceptions and myths associated with human trafficking can act as barriers to identifying and acting on the problem.

Myth #1: Human trafficking is always a violent crime

Truth: Although there are instances of traffickers using kidnapping and other physically violent means to force someone into trafficking, most traffickers rely on psychological tactics to target victims—such as defrauding, tricking, and manipulating.

Myth #2: Only women and girls are human trafficking victims

Truth: According to the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking Annual Report 2020, boys and men make up “a significant portion of human trafficking victims nationally and internationally,” including in sex trafficking. The problem? Males are less likely to be identified as victims or to seek out help, and fewer resources are available to them when they do.

Myth #3: Human trafficking only happens in “other” communities and countries

Truth: More than 30,000 cases of human trafficking have been reported in the U.S., with cases in every single state. Human trafficking impacts millions of people worldwide, regardless of location, gender, race, age, or socioeconomic status.

Myth #4: Human trafficking is the same as human smuggling

Truth: Human smuggling is when a person is illegally moved across a country’s border with consent. Human trafficking involves exploitation, does not require movement, and is without victims’ consent. Human smuggling can become trafficking if the smuggler uses force, fraud, or coercion to induce people into sex or labor trafficking.

Myth #5: Human trafficking victims will seek help when they are out in public

Truth: Victims may feel ashamed, guilty, and undeserving of help. Or they may be afraid to get help due to threats and manipulation from their traffickers. Some victims have had their identity documents taken away and feel they cannot escape their situation.

Myth #6: Human trafficking is only an issue in underground industries

Truth: Trafficking happens in various legal industries, including restaurants, construction, factories, agriculture, healthcare, hospitality, and many more.

Human Trafficking Statistics

Unfortunately, human trafficking is somewhat of an “invisible” crime. Victims may be interacting in public, but fear of punishment, shame, language barriers, and distrust of law enforcement often keep them from reporting the crime and seeking help. As such, it can be hard to estimate the true prevalence of human trafficking in the U.S.

That said, the National Human Trafficking Hotline maintains the most extensive database on human trafficking stats in the U.S. Here are some statistics from 2019 (the most recent year for which data is available):

  • 22,326 human trafficking victims and survivors identified
  • 11,500 trafficking situations identified (more than double from 2005)
  • 4,384 traffickers and 1,912 suspicious businesses identified
  • 17 is the average age at which sex trafficking began
  • 22 is the average age at which labor trafficking began
  • 6,684 victims were adults, and 2,582 were minors (with many unknown)
  • More than 15,000 trafficking victims were women
  • Of the 48,326 trafficking-related contacts the hotline received, 62% came in via text, 45% via email, 32% via web chat, 12% via online report, and 8% via phone call
  • California had the most trafficking cases reported (1,507), followed by Texas (1,080) and Florida (896).

The criminal justice system can also provide some much-needed context. According to the FBI, of the 1,883 human trafficking incidents reported to them in 2019, there were 708 arrests. In addition, the Human Trafficking Institute compiles data based on in-depth analysis of federal efforts to prosecute traffickers in the U.S.:

  • The U.S. government had 570 active human trafficking cases in 2020, involving 1,007 defendants and 1,499 victims. Of those, 165 cases were new in 2020.
  • 91% of victims were involved in sex trafficking, and 9% were part of forced labor cases.
  • Victim demographics for 2020: 50% girls (under 18), 44% women, 3% boys (under 18), and 3% men. That means 789 victims were children and 709 were adults.
  • In sex trafficking cases, children made up the majority of victims (55%), while adults made up most of the forced labor cases (77%).
  • Of adults, 92% of victims were 18-29 years old, and 8% were 30+ years.
  • Of kids, 89% of minors were 14-17 years old, and 12% were 0-13 years.
  • The ages of victims ranged from less than one year old to 50 years old.
  • Just 13% of trafficking victims in all 2020 cases were foreign nationals, but they accounted for 57% of victims in forced labor cases (compared to 9% in sex trafficking cases).

Who Is at Risk of Being a Victim of Trafficking?

Although anyone can become a victim of human trafficking, traffickers tend to target at-risk populations, including people who have already experienced various forms of violence, such as sexual assault, child abuse, or gang violence. They also look for individuals who don’t have stable support networks or are displaced due to natural disasters or other circumstances.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, these groups are especially vulnerable:

  • Individuals who have experienced childhood abuse or neglect
  • Children and youth involved in the foster care and juvenile justice systems
  • People experiencing homelessness
  • American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders
  • Survivors of violence
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) individuals
  • Migrant workers
  • Undocumented immigrants
  • Racial and ethnic minorities
  • People with disabilities
  • People with low incomes
  • People with a history of substance abuse
  • Communities exposed to intergenerational trauma

Children who are or have been in foster care are particularly susceptible to becoming victims of trafficking. An estimated 60% of human trafficking victims in the U.S. were in the foster care system at some point.

According to Polaris’ statistics, these were the five top risk factors for individuals subjected to human trafficking in 2019:

Sex Trafficking

  1. Substance abuse concern
  2. Runaway homeless youth
  3. Recent migration/relocation
  4. Unstable housing
  5. Mental health concern

Labor Trafficking

  1. Recent migration/relocation
  2. Unstable housing
  3. Criminal record/criminal history
  4. Physical health concern
  5. Substance use concern

Signs of Human Trafficking

One of the reasons human trafficking can be so challenging to stop is because the signs aren’t always obvious. That said, some signs can indicate a trafficking situation, particularly if you see someone displaying more than one of the below:

  • Showing fear, tension, anxiety, or submission
  • Signs of restraint, confinement, or physical abuse
  • Signs of verbal or emotional abuse or demeaning treatment
  • Signs of poor hygiene, malnourishment, fatigue, injuries, sleep deprivation
  • Always being monitored, lack of freedom
  • Avoiding interaction and eye contact
  • Having no control over money or ID
  • Having few personal items, lower quality clothing than people they are with
  • With a significantly older boyfriend or older males
  • Restrictions on socializing
  • Lacking basic necessities
  • Seeming submissive or fearful
  • Having tattoos or branding on the neck or lower back
  • Lacking concrete plans
  • Not knowing much about where they live
  • Living in cramped situations
  • Living and working at the same place
  • Having untreated STDs

Where Does Trafficking Happen?

Human trafficking can happen anywhere in the United States—any city, suburb, or rural community. Trafficking victims are often hidden in plain sight, such as at:

  • Hotels and motels
  • Truck stops and rest areas
  • Street corners
  • Private residences
  • Bars and strip clubs
  • Massage businesses
  • Factories
  • Construction sites
  • Farms
  • Restaurants
  • Hair and nail salons
  • Door-to-door sales crews

Human Trafficking and the Transportation Industry

Because trafficking often depends on various forms of transportation, the industry is poised to make a real difference in the fight against human trafficking. Many traffickers depend on transportation to recruit, move, and deliver victims. Whether by bus, plane, train, taxi, or car, traffickers exploit the transportation system to get victims from point A to point B.

In a Polaris survey of trafficking survivors, 64% said traffickers had them utilize some form of transportation during their victimization—including 42% on local or long-distance buses, 27% on trains, and 38% on planes.

On the flip side, transportation can be a means of escape and light at the end of the tunnel for trafficking victims. Overall, 54% of survivors replied that having reduced access to transportation was a significant barrier to escaping, while 26% said that public and mass transportation did help them attempt to exit their situation.

Certain key groups can play a pivotal role in stopping human trafficking within the transportation industry, including truck drivers.

What Truckers Need to Know About Human Trafficking

Driving thousands of miles each week crisscrossing our nation’s highways, truck drivers truly are the eyes and ears of the roadways. Not only are they potentially traveling the same routes as traffickers, but they frequent places where human trafficking often occurs, like welcome centers, rest areas, truck stops, and motels.

Because truck and rest stops tend to be geographically isolated and separate from local communities, traffickers can more easily escape attention and keep their victims under tight control with little opportunity to escape. And, with so many truckers and travelers driving through, the potential number of customers for sex trafficking operations is high.

What Are “Lot Lizards”?

The derogatory term “lot lizards” refers to prostitutes who work at truck stops and rest areas. They usually offer their services by going from truck-to-truck knocking on doors or over the CB radio, advertising “commercial company” or “40-60-80” to attract customers. Others work in heavily advertised truck stop “massage” parlors that are fronts for commercial sex.

While some sex workers are there consensually, an untold number are sex trafficking victims forced to engage in commercial sex. Why? Although prostitution is illegal in all states except Nevada, it’s very hard to prosecute—especially at truck stops where money exchanges inside the truck, away from law enforcement. And, in a lot with hundreds of parked trucks, it’s easy for traffickers to hide both their operations and victims from police.

How Truckers Can Help

With more truck drivers than law enforcement on the road on any given day, truckers are integral to the fight against human trafficking. Whether at truck stops, rest areas, motels, hotels, restaurants, or even on the side of the road, truck drivers inevitably encounter victims of human trafficking at some point on their routes. Here’s what truckers can do to help.

Break the Demand Cycle: No Buyers = No Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking only exists when people are willing to purchase commercial sex. The basic tenets of supply and demand state that the supply (victims) is driven by the demand for services (commercial sex acts). In sex trafficking at truck stops and rest areas, the more demand there is for it (i.e., the more truck drivers who purchase the services), the more victims traffickers will exploit to meet those needs.

The culture of tolerance at truck stops that minimizes the horrors of sex trafficking and objectifies and dehumanizes the victims only perpetuates the trafficking. By saying “no” to paying for sex, truckers have extraordinary power to break the cycle of supply and demand that keeps traffickers coming back.

Get TAT Training and Certification

Colorado-based Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to combatting human trafficking by educating, equipping, empowering, and mobilizing the trucking, bus, and energy industries.

By watching an online video and taking a short quiz, truckers can become certified as TAT-trained drivers. The TAT training is free, and it teaches drivers the signs of human trafficking to be on the lookout for and what to do when they suspect a trafficking situation. To date, 1,247,845 individuals are registered as TAT-trained in the U.S.

Look for Signs of Trafficking

In addition to the signs of human trafficking mentioned above, truck drivers should stay vigilant for the signs of human trafficking common at rest areas, truck stops, and motels.

  • Individuals moving from truck to truck
  • Groups of girls or boys at rest stops with an older male or female
  • CB calls soliciting sex for pay
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts
  • Restricted communication or movement
  • Branding of a trafficker’s name (often on the neck)
  • Mention of a quota, a “pimp,” or a “daddy”
  • A truck, RV, or van with multiple women in it

Take Action

When truckers suspect human trafficking, taking the below TAT-recommended steps to report it can save lives and help end this modern slavery.

  1. Write down detailed descriptions of the cars, trucks, and people involved: record times, dates, addresses, and locations.
  2. Don’t approach the traffickers—let law enforcement take care of it. Your involvement can be dangerous for you and the victims.
  3. If you see a crime in progress, call 911.
  4. Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline to ask questions, make a report, or share incidents. The Hotline can be reached at 1-888-373-7888 or see below for more ways to contact.
  5. Tell area management what you’ve seen and provide support to the victim (if you’re comfortable).

Truck driver Kevin Kimmel was at a Virginia gas station in 2015 when he spotted a man entering an out-of-place looking RV that soon began rocking back and forth. Shortly after, he saw a young woman peer out from behind the curtain and knew something wasn’t right. Kimmel contacted the police, ending the 20-year-old woman’s 18 days of kidnapping, torture, and sex trafficking. His report helped send her traffickers to jail for more than 80 years.

How Other Transportation Professionals Can Prevent Trafficking

Everyone in the transportation industry stands to make a difference against human trafficking by taking action. Here’s how some of the most common transportation sectors are getting involved.

Transit Workers

With close to half of trafficking victims saying they traveled on buses during their victimization, it’s clear that public transportation employees can be big players in the fight against human trafficking. TAT’s Busing on the Lookout program trains industry workers to look for signs and handle potential trafficking situations.

CDL Schools and Fleet Owners

Twelve states (Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin) require new CDL applicants to undergo training on trafficking through TAT. In states that don’t yet require the training, CDL schools can take it upon themselves to train aspiring commercial drivers how to spot and report human trafficking. Similarly, fleet, transportation, and other company owners can require mandatory TAT training for all employees and current CDL holders. Costco, for example, educates its drivers through TAT.

Aviation Workers

Airline Ambassadors International (AAI) provides resources and training to help airline and aviation workers identify situations of human trafficking, and it’s been saving lives. After receiving AAI training, flight attendant Sheila Fedrick noticed a young, disheveled teenage girl flying with an older, well-dressed man. When she tried to engage the two in conversation, she noticed that the man wouldn’t let the minor girl speak. Fedrick left a note to the girl on a bathroom mirror asking if she was okay, and the girl’s written response (“I need help”) prompted her to alert the pilots, who had police offers waiting at the airport when they landed.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, also leads the Blue Lightning Initiative to train personnel in the aviation industry on how to identify traffickers and victims and how to make reports.

Truck Stop Owners

The National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO) has an online learning tool that helps train truck stop operators, owners, and employees to respond to suspected human trafficking situations. NATSO also provides a toolkit, posters, handouts, and charts as training and awareness materials to help industry professionals handle situations appropriately. By posting information for truckers and potential victims alike, truck stop operators can educate about the dangers of human trafficking.

Get Involved in the Fight Against Trafficking

The undeniable truth is that human trafficking is much more widespread than most people think—it’s in your state, your town, and, more than likely, your community. The good news is that everyone can get involved in the fight against modern slavery, no matter their job, age, or life circumstances. Here’s how.

Learn

Human trafficking is an incredibly complex and diverse crime with various cultural, economic, and social components. By far, one of the best ways to prevent human trafficking is to become educated about how it happens, who’s at risk, what common signs to look for, and what to do if you suspect it.

From taking an online course on human trafficking awareness and reading stories of modern-day slavery to knowing trafficking statistics in your state and facts about global prevalence, you have countless options for education. The more you know about human trafficking and its impact on your community and the world, the more motivated and ready you’ll be to help.

Share

With trafficking impacting so many different industries and communities around the world, the more people involved in the fight, the better. Take the time to share your knowledge however and whenever you can, via:

  • Social media, using hashtags #endtrafficking and #freedomfirst
  • Presentations for neighborhood associations and PTOs
  • Talks with your local school district about how to help students
  • Discussions in your workplace about providing trauma-informed services
  • Teaching your children about the dangers of trafficking and how to be safe online
  • Hosting awareness-raising events (e.g., documentary screenings or book clubs) in the community

Help

There is a myriad of ways to help victims and survivors of human trafficking. If you think someone is a victim of human trafficking, you can ask some of these Polaris-suggested questions to get a better feel for their situation:

  • Do you keep your own money? If not, who does?
  • Do your parents/siblings/relatives know where you are? If not, why not?
  • When was the last time you saw your family?
  • Is anyone hurting you?
  • Are you or your family threatened? How?

When answers indicate a potential trafficking situation, reach out to law enforcement and an anti-trafficking hotline to find support and resources. If your job involves working with clients who may be victims of trafficking, a comprehensive assessment can help determine your next steps.

You can also directly help victims by making it easier for them to find help. DoSomething.org suggests writing the human trafficking hotline number inside clothes you donate and posting hotline numbers and information on how to get help at truck stops, restaurants, and other trafficking hotspots. That chance encounter with a poster or sticker may just save someone’s life.

For survivors, your donated goods, job search help, or legal advice (depending on your profession) can help them find peace and justice and break the cycle of trauma.

Report

Whether you’re in your hometown or traveling abroad, know the resources and hotlines available to you should you encounter human trafficking—and be prepared to use them. After all, one phone call could save multiple lives and thwart the repercussions that can extend for generations.

If you need help or have information about a trafficking situation, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline 24/7:

To report missing or exploited children, contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC):

Volunteer

Volunteering your time or donating money to anti-trafficking organizations can be a huge help in the fight against human trafficking. The National Human Trafficking Hotline’s referral directory can help you locate organizations in your community that provide services and resources. Other well-known advocacy organizations include:

Participate

Participating in the fight against human trafficking can extend into your everyday life with simple but impactful steps.

Be a mentor to a child in need.
Kids in foster care or children dealing with challenging life situations and who lack familial support are especially at risk of becoming trafficking victims. Whether through a professional mentoring organization or by reaching out to someone in your community, volunteer to help at-risk youth. Having one concerned and caring adult can be all a child needs to stay safe from traffickers.

Be a conscious consumer.
Countless goods produced all over the world are associated with victims of human trafficking. To track which products may be contributing to trafficking, consult the Bureau of International Labor Affairs’ List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. Want to check out your own slavery footprint? Fill out this survey to see how much your lifestyle contributes to the problem.

Be a regular advocate.
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, with annual campaigns devoted to raising awareness, supporting victims, and promoting advocacy. But you can also be an advocate all year long. Although specific events may change each year, these are five to count on:

  • Join thousands of abolitionists all over the world in a Walk for Freedom on October 16. Advocates will be walking in hundreds of cities across the globe to raise awareness about human trafficking.
  • Participate in #WearBlueDay on January 11 every year to raise awareness. Take a selfie wearing blue clothing and post it to social media. You can also share a video about why you’re participating, host a virtual event, and challenge friends and colleagues to join in.
  • Follow, share, and wear the Blue Heart as part of the Blue Heart Campaign to support victims of human trafficking. You can also download logo packages to show your company’s support.
  • In March, join The CNN Freedom Project to help students and teachers explain what #MyFreedomDay means to them.
  • If you attend church regularly, work with the International Justice Mission (IJM) to host a Freedom Sunday to raise awareness and stand up for those who have been trafficked. IJM provides free sermon resources, a promotional guide, social media graphics, and more.

How Businesses Can Help

Fortunately, it’s not just individuals who can take a stand against human trafficking—businesses can join, too. In a TED presentation, UPS attorney Nikki Clifton explains three ways businesses can fight sex trafficking:

  1. Create strict company policies prohibiting sex buying at work, including during business travel, trade shows, or events.
  2. Educate your workforce about signs of human trafficking, so they know what red flags to look for both in and out of work.
  3. Use company expertise, resources, and lines of business to make a difference. For example, staffing agency Randstad created Hire Hope to provide career training and job placement services to women who’ve been victims. Visa and MasterCard banned transactions from Backpage.com after it became clear that the adult website was being used for sex trafficking. Figure out how your company’s unique mission can make a difference.

Businesses Ending Slavery & Trafficking (BEST) provides industry-specific training, consultation, and other resources for employers ready to join the fight.

Resources to Learn More About Human Trafficking

National Human Trafficking Hotline Online Trainings
The NHTH provides interactive online training on everything from Human Trafficking 101 to Human Trafficking Awareness for Educators.

Ending Human Trafficking Podcast
This bimonthly podcast includes survivor stories, discussions with experts, prevention tips, and more. With 257 podcasts and counting, the popular podcast is led by Sandie Morgan, Ph.D., RN, director of the Global Center for Women and Justice at Vanguard University.

Global Data Hub on Human Trafficking
The Counter Trafficking Data Collaborative compiled the first worldwide human trafficking data hub from organizations all over the world.

2020 Trafficking in Persons Report
The U.S. Department of State compiles this yearly report on multiple aspects of human trafficking, such as trauma bonding, trafficking of athletes, and healthcare for survivors.

The Action Library
End Slavery Now’s Action Library details 453 actions you can take right now to help end modern-day slavery, from purchasing fair trade products to subscribing to anti-trafficking podcasts.

Blue Campaign Transportation Toolkit
This handy toolkit from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security provides concise identifying and reporting advice for professionals in the trucking, aviation, rail, and maritime industries.

UNICEF Suggested Films and Books
This list of six films and eight books is a great start for anyone looking to learn more about human trafficking.

Unchained at Last Survivor Stories
These shocking real-life accounts of forced and child marriage in the U.S. give valuable insight into the depth of the problem in America.

The A21 Campaign
Providing educational resources, e-books, and guides for educators, parents, students, and communities, this campaign aims to equip everyone to fight against human trafficking.

Love146 Language and Media Guide
If you want to write about sex trafficking of children, this guide provides expert resources and information about what not to say.

Spot the Signs of Human Trafficking
Hope for Justice provides a detailed list of the signs of trafficking in six key areas.

Faces of Human Trafficking
The Office for Victims of Crime publishes a video series, discussion guide, fact sheets, and posters to help businesses, service provides, law enforcement, prosecutors, and community members with outreach and education.

Voices of Freedom
A collaboration between the Office on Trafficking in Persons (OTIP) and other organizations, this oral history archive of 100 recorded discussions tells the story of anti-trafficking efforts over the past 20 years.

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Webinar
This three-part online training discusses the vulnerabilities, indicators, and trauma of child sex trafficking.