What is Human Trafficking?

What human trafficking is, and isn’t

Human trafficking is the business of stealing freedom for profit. In some cases, traffickers trick, defraud or physically force victims into providing commercial sex. In others, victims are lied to, assaulted, threatened or manipulated into working under inhumane, illegal or otherwise unacceptable conditions. It is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 24.9 million people around the world.  Please scroll down to learn more about what constitutes the crime of trafficking. We hope this information is useful to you. Please note that the staff of the National Hotline is focused on assisting victims and survivors and is not available to answer more general questions about their work or about human trafficking generally for research or other purposes.

Force, fraud, or coercion

U.S. law defines human trafficking as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person into commercial sex acts or labor or services against his or her will. The one exception involves minors and commercial sex. Inducing a minor into commercial sex is considered human trafficking regardless of the presence of force, fraud or coercion.


The Action-Means-Purpose (AMP) Model can be helpful in understanding the federal law. Human trafficking occurs when a perpetrator, often referred to as a trafficker, takes an Action, and then employs the Means of force, fraud or coercion for the Purpose of compelling the victim to provide commercial sex acts or labor or services. At a minimum, one element from each column must be present to establish a potential situation of human trafficking.

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Indentifying Traffickers

A REMINDER: As with most red flags, these are not cause for concern or proof of anything alone, but once multiple red flags are showing up in one youth’s situation, that is when the warning bells should go off.

Has more than one cell phone.

Has secret social media page (often with an alias)

Attire as changed /become significantly more sexualized in the process of other red flags on this list taking
place and does not match the weather/ season.

Runs away from home or talks about doing so. (4+ runs= almost 100% likelihood of CSE)

Recently started getting their nails done with fake acrylics and does not have access to legal employment/
allowance from guardians to cover cost.

New boyfriend whose appearance in their life coincides with other changes on this list, often not someone
they go to school with, or knew previously.

Is a female that uses gang signs, has a gang related tattoo, uses gang language, or glorifies gang lifestyle.

Frequents casinos or associated hotels without plausible connection to legal gambling.

Returns home after being unaccounted for or after running away and has cash on them beyond what guardians/ legal employment would provide.

Displays adult / pornographic images on social media with sex industry references or links to escort sites.

Uses sex-industry specific language.

Has a male’s “street” name/ alias or references to “daddy” of “King” in tattoo on neck or breast.

Has “property of” bar codes, dollar signs, or “100” tattooed anywhere on body.

If already known to be posted in Backpage or similar site, shows inconsistency in age or other personal descriptions on multiple posts

Identifying Victims

The following are some warning signs of someone who may be a trafficking victim:

Victims may still be in the home in the earlier stages of being trafficked — sneaking out at night for “dates” and even recruiting in her own school. But they will eventually go missing.

Has stopped attending school.

Appears disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship.

Has a dramatic change in behavior.

Tired during the day.

History of running away and/or abuse.

Involved with gangs, drug and/or alcohol use, signs of physical abuse, tattoos or brands.

Suddenly has expensive things, has an older boyfriend, usually not in school.

Increasingly interested or talks a lot about dreams, starts becoming secluded and you start to see her less and less.
Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes.

Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts.

Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp/manager.

Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips.

Works excessively longs and/or unusual hours.

Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work.

Is fearful, timid, or submissive.

Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off.

Often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers. Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to.

Appears to be coached on what to say.

Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work.

High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)
Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid.

Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement.

Avoids eye contact.

Lacks health care.

Shows signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care.

Has bruises in various stages of healing.

Disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse.

Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture.
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).

Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating).
Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying.

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.