Know the Indicators of a Potential Victim

Indicators that Your Student is Potentially Being Trafficked

Isabel in blue

One of the most frequently asked questions advocates get is, how can I recognize a student that is potentially being trafficked? This can be difficult, especially since so many of the initial signs resemble other abuse scenarios such as bullying, physical or emotional abuse, sex abuse, etc. in the younger age groups. However, there are some signs to look out for, including:

• Change is personality or demeanor – from happy to sad, from talkative to quiet
• Change in appearance
• Physical abuse signs such as bruising, cuts and scrapes, etc.
• From active and vibrant to inactive and lethargic
• A change in friends
• A decrease in attendance
• Grades drop

As students get older, the red flags increase, and a high school student’s lifestyle changes may make human trafficking easier to spot. In addition to the red flags above, in older students watch out for changes in the type of friends they’re hanging with, older boyfriends, expensive clothing, the inability to communicate openly and truthfully, etc.

Another great site for learning indicators is EndSlaveryTN. Here are some of the Red Flags they list (there are others on the website). Take notice in situations where a person:

• Is lying about age or has a false ID
• Has untreated illnesses or infections, including STDs, HIV/Aids, pelvic pain/inflammation, rectal trauma, urinary difficulties, abdominal or genital trauma.
• Has an inability or fear of social interaction
• Carries hotel keys/key cards
• Presents inconsistencies when describing and recounting events
• Is often in the presence and seems to be fearful of another person (often an older male or boyfriend who seems controlling)
• Is sexually explicit profiles on social networking sites
• Talks about an older boyfriend or sex with an older man/boyfriend
• Uses words associated with the commercial sex industry
• Has a prepaid cell phone
• May try to protect pimps/traffickers from authorities, have loyalty to trafficker, and/or does not identify as a victim
• Has an unexplained sudden increase in money, clothing or other goods
• Is frequently truant from school or not enrolled

In addition, we need to be aware of the labor trafficking aspect. Children who attend school while being trafficked for labor are often times sexually exploited as well. The US Department of Health and Human Services has a great fact sheet that can aid in the education of this issue. Here are some of the signs they tell us to look for:

Physical Effects of Human Trafficking – While not all victims of trafficking have physical indicators that aid identification, many victims suffer serious health issues, some of which may include the following:

• Signs of physical abuse, such as bruises, broken bones, burns, and scarring;
• Chronic back, visual, or hearing problems from work in agriculture, construction, or manufacturing;
• Skin or respiratory problems caused by exposure to agricultural or other chemicals;
• Infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and hepatitis, which are spread in overcrowded, unsanitary environments with limited ventilation;
• Untreated chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease; and/or
• Reproductive health problems, including sexually transmitted diseases, urinary tract infections, pelvic pain and injuries from sexual assault, or forced abortions.

If an anti-trafficking/sexual exploitation curriculum is brought into the classroom and students are being educated, you’ll spot signs of fidgeting in the seat, nail biting, crying, outbursts of emotions, not paying attention to the presentation, etc. In some rare cases, students who are being exploited actually are eager to listen because they are discovering what human trafficking is thinking to themselves, ‘this is me.’

No matter the case – sex or labor trafficking – we all need to know the signs. As educators you are in a great position to spot these children since you spend more time with them than most of the rest of the population (including their families). Educators get to know the habits and patterns of their students, so spotting an abrupt change in character is one that is easy to identify and can prompt compassionate probing.

If you think you have come into contact with a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1.888.373.7888. The NHTRC can help you identify and coordinate with local organizations that protect and serve trafficking victims.

Thanks for caring about your students and being a “first line of defense” against human trafficking.


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