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Chptr 3 How to Recognize the Signs/Indicators of Human Trafficking

Chapter 3

How to Recognise Signs of Human Trafficking/ Indicators

Human trafficking is an insidious epidemic that occurs throughout the world. It occurs in our own backyards, and even our front yards, as trafficking victims are often hiding in plain sight.

In many cases, victims can be identified. It requires us to know what they look like, and where to look.

Human trafficking victims can often be identified through excessive and burdensome labor conditions, or visibly strained or awkward interpersonal dynamics with their companions.

Whether it is a restaurant server who works extended hours and never seems to leave the building, a maid working for a family in a beautiful mansion who neighbors notice seems to live in the garage, or a young girl travelling with a much older man who does appear to be a relative. There are red flags we can perceive if we are paying attention.

3.1. Failure to Recognize Trafficking Victims

Trafficking victims are not identified because they are not recognized. In “Human trafficking: Improving victim identification and service provision,” even some members of the law enforcement community, if they are not trained to identify victims of human trafficking, may view victims as illegal immigrants.

An even more basic reason many people fail to recognize trafficking activity is because neither community members nor law enforcement can identify a crime they do not understand.

They explain that prioritization of law enforcement efforts starts with the community, because authorities are not inclined to focus on criminal activity that has not been identified. They quote one prosecutor as noting that stereotypical views of human trafficking as sex slaves shipped from overseas at gunpoint results in a failure to identify other cases that do not fit the stereotype.

Media portrayals are not always helpful in identifying trafficking victims, because they can inadvertently create stereotypes that many victims do not fit.

3.2. Misidentifying Trafficking Victims

The media portrays sex trafficking victims as children who are young, vulnerable, and innocent, while showcasing promiscuous, hardened youth as willful sex workers. They also note that acceptance of human trafficking myths contributes to the perception of victim responsibility.

Labor trafficking cases also fly under the radar. Because authorities are focused on detecting the sex trafficking of minors. They also explain that identifying labor trafficking cases are complicated by victim unfamiliarity with the elements of the crime, resulting in an inability to accurately classify their employment situation. They give the example of one detective recognizing the challenge of separating exploitive labor practices from trafficking, noting that involuntary servitude does not require a victim to be chained in a basement.

Another problem involves public lack of sympathy for labor trafficking victims, who are often undocumented adults, due to negative views on illegal immigration.

3.3. Reasons Trafficking Victims Do Not Come Forward

Obviously, it would be much easier to prosecute human trafficking if the victims came forward. But they don’t, for a variety of reasons.

Many trafficking victims do not come forward because they fear adverse consequences ranging from retaliation to deportation. Others are in love with their traffickers, having been seduced into the relationship with promises of security and marriage only to realize that the trafficker´s romantic advances were not motivated by love, but by the love of money.

Research indicates that some victims fail to come forward because they might use them as witnesses in law enforcement investigations, while others are unaware of the existence of human trafficking laws that acknowledge their status as victims. Still others fail to reveal their predicament out of fear of retaliation.

Some victims deny their victimization out of shame and embarrassment, not wanting to disclose things they have done under force or duress. They also observe that a victim´s failure to report can stem from the reluctance to return to a home or residential housing facility, which may motivate runaway minors to avoid contact with law enforcement.

3.4. Knowledge Is Power

Human trafficking requires knowing what to look for, where to look, and what to do with the information you see. Community awareness enables us to spot red flags and provide support for survivors.

3.5. Signs of Trafficking: How to Identify a Victim being Trafficked

Too often, sex traffickers are able to keep their victims in the web of exploitation because sex trafficking can be hard to identify.

It’s important to understand there are patterns and signs that can help identify the perpetrators and help the victims receive help. Victims of sex trafficking are often vulnerable because of homelessness, poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental or physical disability or lack of legal immigration status.  These are all contributing factors when identifying those who may be most vulnerable to domestic sex trafficking.

It’s easy to think human trafficking is limited to certain segments of society; however, it’s vital to remember that vulnerability to being trafficked knows no boundaries. Traffickers often prey on people who hope for a better life, lack employment opportunities, have an unstable home life or have a history of sexual abuse. These are characteristics that are present across age, socio-economic status, nationality and level of education.

Age is one of the most significant factors in a child being vulnerable to sex trafficking.  Pre-teen or adolescent girls are more susceptible to the calculated advances, deception and manipulation tactics used by traffickers and pimps; however, no youth is exempt from falling prey to these tactics. Traffickers target locations youth frequent, such as schools, malls, parks, bus stops, shelters and group homes.

Traffickers also prey on runaways and at-risk youth. Within 48 hours of running away from home, a young person is likely to be bought or sold for prostitution or some kind of commercial sexual exploitation. Pimps and sex traffickers are skilled at manipulating child victims and maintaining control through a combination of deception, lies, feigned affection, threats and violence.

Everyone has the potential to discover a human trafficking situation. While the victims may sometimes be kept behind locked doors, they are often hidden right in front of us, for example, construction sites, restaurants, elder care centers, nail salons, agricultural fields, and hotels. Traffickers’ use of coercion – such as threats of deportation and harm to the victim or their family members – is so powerful that even if you reach out to victims, they may be too fearful to accept your help. Knowing indicators of human trafficking and some follow up questions will help you act on your gut feeling that something is wrong and report it.

3.6. Human Trafficking Indicators

While not an exhaustive list, these are some key red flags that could alert you to a potential trafficking situation that should be reported:

  • Living with employer
  • Poor living conditions
  • Multiple people in cramped space
  • Inability to speak to individual alone
  • Answers appear to be scripted and rehearsed
  • Employer is holding identity documents
  • Signs of physical abuse
  • Submissive or fearful
  • Unpaid or paid very little
  • Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior
  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Under 18 and in prostitution
  • Lacks health care
  • Appears malnourished
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
  • Lack of Control
  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
  • Loss of sense of time
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)
  • This list is not exhaustive and represents only a selection of possible indicators. Also, the red flags in this list may not be present in all trafficking cases and are not cumulative.

3.7. Questions to Ask

Assuming you have the opportunity to speak with a potential victim privately and without jeopardizing the victim’s safety because the trafficker is watching, here are some sample questions to ask to follow up on the red flags you became alert to:

  • Did someone else bring you to this country?

  • Did you travel alone?

  • Did you travel as part of a group?

  • Did you travel with your family?

  • Did you personally pay for your travel over here?

  • Were you sponsored to travel here?

  • Are you in debt with anyone?

  • Do you have a job?

  • Could you leave your job is you want to?

  • Do you live where you work?

  • Do you live your employers?

  • If yes, can you live the premise alone?

  • Have you been hurt or threatened if you tried to leave?

  • Has your family ever been threatened?

  • Do you pay for accommodation?

  • Did you get to choose where you live?

  • Do you do your own shopping?

  • Do you leave the house alone?

  • Do you have your own private space?

  • Do you eat proper meals?

  • If yes, do you eat alone?

  • Had you already secured work before coming here?

  • Were you approached for employment when you arrived?

  • Did you receive training for the job?

  • Do you work more than 40 hours a week?

  • Do you have a contract?

  • Do you get paid?

  • Do you have access to your wages?

  • Do you know you home or work address?

  • Do you have access to the internet?

  • Are you personally in possession of your passport/identification?

  • Do you have any tattoos?

  • If yes, do they symbolise anything?

  • Do you own many items of clothes?

  • If yes, are they suitable for the job role?

  • Do you see your relatives?

  • Do you travel around in large groups of people you don’t know?

  • Have you ever been forced to have unprotected sex?

  • Do you have free time to yourself?

  • Are you familiar with the local language?

  • Do you know many people in your local community?

  • Are you married?

  • Did you come here to get married?

  • Are you aware of any payments before marriage?

  • Did your partner bring you here to Malta?

  • If no, did you meet your partner here?

  • Can you socialise outside your partner’ company?

  • Are you fleeing from your country?

  • Are you fleeing from your country to receive education?

  • Are you fleeing from war in your country?

  • Are you fleeing from poverty in your country?

  • Are you fleeing your country to find employment?

  • Are you fleeing your country due to political reasons?

  • Are you fleeing your country due to conflict of religious beliefs?

3.8. Where to Get Help

It may be unsafe to attempt to rescue a trafficking victim. You have no way of knowing how the trafficker may react and retaliate against the victim and you. If, however, you identify a victim who has escaped the trafficking situation, there are a number of organizations to whom the victim could be referred to for help with shelter, medical care, legal assistance, and other critical services.

Sex trafficking is a vast web of traffickers and victims.  In order to be able to understand this growing tragedy of sex trafficking, and to help the victims who are caught up in this crime, we need to understand how trafficking works.

The perpetrators of this crime (the traffickers and pimps) don’t fit a single stereotype.  They represent every social, ethnic, and racial group. Some perpetrators are involved with local gangs, others are members of larger nationwide gangs and criminal organizations, and some have no affiliation with any one group. Traffickers can also be women – in fact, many women run established rings around the country.

Victims of sex trafficking are often young girls who have run away from abusive situations at home and are quickly picked up by traffickers who coerce them into prostitution by promising food, shelter or clothing. Other recruiting methods include befriending vulnerable-looking girls at malls, movie theaters and even schools. The recruiter could be a young man posing as a doting boyfriend or another girl who appears to be friendly.

Traffickers use force, drugs, emotional tactics, and financial methods to control their victims. Often, recruiters may find ways to form a strong bond with young girls – for instance, they may promise marriage or a lifestyle the girls have not had in their families of origin. They claim they “love” and “need” the victim and that any sex acts are for their future together. In cases where the children have few or no positive male role models in their lives, the traffickers take advantage of this and, in many cases, demand that the victims refer to them as “daddy” – further ensnaring them in their web of deceit.

Sometimes, the traffickers use violence, such as gang rape and other forms of abuse, to force the youths to work for them and remain under their control.  The traffickers can use their ability to supply them with drugs and alcohol as a means of control. Traffickers often take their victims’ identity forms, including birth certificates, passports, and drivers’ licenses. In these cases, even if youths do leave they have no ability to support themselves and will often return to the trafficker.


Chapter 1: What is Human Trafficking?

1.1.        Definition of Human Trafficking

1.2.        Human Trafficking and EU Law

1.3.        October 18: EU Anti-Trafficking Day

1.4.     Ways to prevent human trafficking

Chapter 2: Types of Human Trafficking

2.1.        Forced Prostitution

2.2.        Forced Labour

2.3.        Forced Marriage

2.4.        Organ Theft

2.5.        Child Abduction and Trafficking

2.6.        Child-Selling

2.7.        Forced Child Begging

2.8.        Trafficking Boat

2.9.        Conclusion

Chapter 3: How to Recognize the Signs/Indicators of Human Trafficking

3.1.        Failure to Recognize Trafficking Victims Forced Labour

3.2.        Misidentifying Trafficking Victims Organ Theft

3.3.        Reasons Trafficking Victims Do Not Come Forward

3.4.        Knowledge Is Power

3.5.        Signs of Trafficking:  How to Identify a Victim Being Trafficked

3.6.        Human Trafficking Indicators

3.7.        Questions to Ask

3.8.        Where to Get Help


Chapter 4: Abolition Groups

4.1.        Phases of Abolition

4.2.        Awareness Actions

4.3.        Policy Actions

4.4.        Rescue Actions

4.5.        Prosecution Actions

4.6.        Aftercare Actions

4.7.        Empowerment Actions

4.8.        Groups

4.9.        Your Role and Act in Abolition Groups

Chapter 5: What can the Youth do to help STOP Human Trafficking?

5.1.         Name of NGO & Country

5.2.         Brief Outline of Topic

5.3.        Objective of Write-up

5.4.        Definitions

5.5.        Content

5.6.        Conclusion

5.7.        References

Chapter 6: Recommendations for Improvements/Moving Forward

Chapter 7: General Indicators and Signs of Human Trafficking

7.1.        General Indicators

7.2.        Children

7.3.        Sexual Exploitation

7.4.        Domestic Servitude

7.5.        Labour Exploitation

7.6.        Begging and Petty Crime



This manual is a culmination of contributions from several young people that took part in the IUME youth exchange that was implemented in Malta in June 2018. The aim of this youth exchange was to bring together young people and their leaders to participate in the implementation of a project that focused on raising awareness on human trafficking using arts. Taking advantage of Valletta being the European Capital of Culture for 2018, the youths performed in the evenings at the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta on 29th June and at the new Paola Pjazza on the 30th of June 2018

You can easily download the manual here   trafficking