Note: This article first appeared at In Public Safety.
By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University
Human trafficking is a major problem worldwide. This crime encompasses sex trafficking, forced labor, and domestic servitude. In the United States, any person under the age of 18 who is involved in a commercial sex act is considered a human trafficking victim, regardless of consent.
Human Trafficking Has Millions of Victims
- 68% are trapped in forced labor
- 26% are children
- 55% are women and girls
In 2016, an estimated one in every six runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was likely a victim of child sex trafficking. Eighty-six percent were in foster care or with a social services agency when they ran away.
How to Determine if Someone Is a Human Trafficking Victim
Some indicators of a potential human trafficking victim include:
- Disconnecting from family, friends and community
- Sudden and dramatic changes in behavior
- Disoriented or confused demeanor (victims may have received depressants)
- Signs of mental or physical abuse, including bruises in various stages of healing
- Children in the presence of adults who are not family members
- Children who provide conflicting information to law enforcement
Additional possible signs of human trafficking victims include:
- Fearful, timid, or submissive appearance
- Signs of malnourishment from being denied food, water, sleep, or medical care
- No personal possessions when traveling (perpetrators commonly hold their victims’ passports, money and personal items to prevent escape)
- Deference to someone else rather than answering questions directly from the police or giving answers that appear to be coached
How Victims Are Lured into Human Trafficking and Why They Stay
Human traffickers commonly recruit their victims through false promises. Victims are promised relocation to where there are good jobs and better living conditions.
But once they arrive at a new location, they are told they will have to work off a large debt and are forced to work in inhumane conditions for little or no pay. They may also be forced into the sex trade.
Tight security prevents their escape. Victims of the sex trade are often moved from safe house to safe house without ever knowing exactly where they are. They are often plied with disorienting drugs and ordered not to cooperate with law enforcement if they are apprehended.
Victims may have been kidnapped. They may also be intimidated through threats, lies, psychological coercion, or physical force. They may often share the same national, ethnic, or cultural background as their captors, who threaten to harm their family members if victims don’t cooperate.
Victims may have been tattooed or branded, which are telltale signs of human trafficking. Tattoos come in many different forms. In the United States, traffickers commonly tattoo their nickname or a bar code on their victims to indicate that they are the trafficker’s property.
Police and Private Citizens Can Help Combat Human Trafficking
Both law enforcement and private citizens have important roles to play in combatting human trafficking. During field interviews and traffic stops, for example, police should take the extra steps to determine whether the person being questioned is a possible victim when the signs of human trafficking are present.
Any suspicious activity should be reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Suspicious activity includes:
- Minors residing with adults who are not family members
- Bruises on individuals at various stages of healing
- The appearance of having been coached what to say when interacting with others
- A teenager or young adult who is not permitted outside without an adult escort
The National Human Trafficking Hotline is open 24 hours a day and can take calls in more than 200 languages. Hotline volunteers will take reports to ensure that the appropriate resources look into all cases.
About the Author: Dr. Jarrod Sadulski has been a member of the Coast Guard since 1997. He also has local law enforcement experience in two local law enforcement agencies where he was a member of the agency’s Crime Suppression Squad and was the agency’s Officer of the Year. Currently, he serves as a Sworn Reserve Deputy at a sheriff’s office in Southwest Florida. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering. He has received commendations from the Coast Guard. Currently, Jarrod is a supervisor in the Coast Guard Reserve Program and provides leadership to Reserve members who conduct homeland security, search and rescue, and law enforcement missions. To contact the author, email IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.