Healthy Lifestyle

Human Trafficking: What It Actually Looks Like and How You Can Help

Published: Jan. 26, 2021

Social media has led many of us to believe that most cases of human trafficking begin with the abduction of an innocent child at a crowded venue or large-scale event when Mom and Dad turn away.

Sure, this could happen. But what’s more typical is a situation where there’s grooming of a child or an adult. And in light of the COVID-19 pandemic – a time when large-scale events seem to be going away – we must remain vigilant about a crime that isn’t.

Modern-Day Slavery

Human trafficking can be divided into two categories: labor and sex trafficking. Both are multibillion-dollar “industries.”

Trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. It’s the use of power and control over another person in an effort to make a profit off of them. In simpler terms: It’s selling someone for sex acts or using their blood, sweat and tears to make a living or get rich.

Sex trafficking is commonly found in:

  • Escort services
  • Hotels
  • Massage services
  • Online meeting rooms and social media
  • Outdoor solicitation
  • Pornography

Labor trafficking is sometimes found in:

  • Agriculture
  • Domestic work
  • Carnivals
  • Cleaning services
  • Restaurants

People who fall victim don’t always realize they’re being trafficked. To the survivor, it can seem like a really unfortunate situation that has unfolded. Survivors may feel stuck and fearful because they’re most likely being threatened with what could happen to them if they try to leave.

Those Highest At Risk

Anyone with vulnerabilities – especially youths and immigrants – are at highest risk for being trafficked. Predators are incredibly adept at recognizing a weakness, a void or something they can potentially expose.

Their targets could include individuals who are:

  • Desiring basic needs that aren’t being met (shoes, clothing and/or accessories)
  • In need of a place to stay
  • Without work
  • Desiring to feel loved or wanted

Predators often swoop in and offer to fill these needs, and a relationship begins. Survivors, however, quickly learn that nothing in life is free – that constant feeling of “debt” or need for repayment never seems to go away.

The Red Flags of Trafficking

With thousands of human trafficking cases coming to light each year in the U.S., it’s likely that someone you know is, has been or knows someone who’s caught in a trafficking situation.

While COVID-19 has many of us spending more time at home, it’s important that we continue to keep our eyes peeled on social media, at the grocery store, at work or when picking up a to-go order.

Here are some red flags that may indicate a person is being trafficked:

  • There’s a significant age difference between them and the person they’re “dating.”
  • They ask what city or state they’re in – they may say they’re traveling and “just passing through.”
  • They have frequent injuries or show signs of physical abuse.
  • They live with an employer.
  • They have seemingly scripted or rehearsed responses.
  • They’re submissive or fearful.
  • They’re always accompanied by another individual.
  • Someone else speaks for them.
  • Someone else holds their personal belongings (cell phone, credit cards, identification, etc.).

While human trafficking may seem like a new crime, it’s not. Many of the same red flags we see with domestic violence happen in trafficking. The mode of operation is the same – using power and control over another person.

How To Help

It may seem like an impossible feat – offering help when the survivor seems so controlled or so tight-lipped. But it cannot be emphasized enough: Whatever you do, talk to the survivor alone. And that may require a lot of creativity. The best, easiest place to meet them is often in a restroom. But always come from an empathetic place. It’s OK to talk about what you’ve noticed or observed.

For example: “Hey, I’ve noticed that the person you’re with … I just want to make sure that you’re safe.”

Establishing a connection by making the person feel heard and safe is essential for any type of disclosure. Reassure them that you’re there to offer help in any capacity. Ask them:

  • What do you need right now?
  • What can I do to help you?
  • Is there someone you want me to call?

One of the biggest things to remember is that we cannot walk in a survivor’s shoes. Only they know what’s best for their continued survival. So, give them back the power and control they deserve. Let them decide how much they share with you and what they need from you.

And if you are the person in need of help, know that Methodist emergency departments have experts on hand to keep you safe and help you find your way back to freedom.

Call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline toll-free at 1 (888) 373-7888 to report a tip or request services. And if you’re in immediate danger, call 911.

More Resources

About the Author

Jen Tran, RN, SANE, Methodist SANE/SART Program coordinator, says she is inspired every day by the passion and tirelessness of her fellow Methodist SANE nurses. She is also inspired by the community and the way everyone pulls together to try to put an end to sexual assault and domestic violence. 

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