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Can You Spot Human Trafficking? 

By Ashley Caroll, MPH January 26, 2022 Posted in: Community Benefit

If you think human trafficking only happens in big cities or scary neighborhoods, the sad truth is you are wrong. Human trafficking happens in every country in the world, here in the United States, and in communities large and small.

What is Human Trafficking?

CHI Health is committed to preventing and responding to all forms of violence, including human trafficking. The CHI Health Forensic Nurse Examiner (FNE) Program – nurses specially trained in crisis intervention – has treated 45 victims of human trafficking in the last five years.

CHI Health is also committed to educating the public about human trafficking. So what exactly is it? The National Human Trafficking Hotline defines it as “the business of stealing freedom for profit.”

It involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to compel a person into commercial sex acts or labor/services against their will, according to U.S. law. If a minor is induced into commercial sex, there does not need to be force, fraud, or coercion for it to be legally considered human trafficking.

Myths About Human Trafficking

This complex and devastating crime is often misunderstood by the public. The National Human Trafficking Hotline dispels many myths, including the following:

Myth: Human trafficking is always or usually a violent crime.

Reality: Most human traffickers use psychological means such as tricking, defrauding, manipulating, or threatening victims into providing commercial sex or exploitative labor.

Myth: All human trafficking involves commercial sex.

Worldwide, experts believe there are more situations of labor trafficking than of sex trafficking. However, there is much wider awareness of sex trafficking in the United States than of labor trafficking.

Myth: Human trafficking only happens in illegal or underground industries.

Reality: Human trafficking cases have been reported and prosecuted in industries including restaurants, cleaning services, construction, factories, and more.

Myth: Only women and girls can be victims and survivors of sex trafficking.

Reality: One study estimates that as many as half of sex trafficking victims and survivors are male. Advocates believe that percentage may be even higher but that male victims are far less likely to be identified. LGBTQ boys and young men are seen as particularly vulnerable to trafficking.

Myth: Traffickers target victims they don’t know.

Reality: Many survivors have been trafficked by romantic partners, including spouses, and by family members, including parents.

Common indicators of human trafficking

We can all help turn the tide against human trafficking by learning to recognize the signs. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security identified these common indicators:

  • Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?
  • Has a child stopped attending school?
  • Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
  • Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?
  • Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
  • Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?
  • Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?
  • Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
  • Is the person 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?
  • Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?
  • Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?
  • Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?
  • Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?

Everyone has a role to play in the fighting human trafficking. Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline 24/7 at 1-888-373-7888 or text them at 233733 if you suspect someone is being human trafficking or is a human trafficker. All reports are confidential and you may remain anonymous.


Originally Published: January 2022. Updated: July 2022.

Ashley Caroll, MPH
Ashley Caroll, MPH

Ashley Carroll, MPH is the Division Manager for Community Benefit & Advocacy at CHI Health.

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