Recognizing Human Trafficking: Vulnerabilities & Signs of Recruitment

Who is Most Vulnerable?

“It can happen to anyone,” and “it’s happening in your backyard,” are common in the anti-human trafficking field. Technically, they are true: Anyone can be trafficked, in any community, just as anyone can be the victim of any kind of crime. But the real story is that while it can happen to anyone available evidence suggests that people of color and LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be trafficked than other demographic groups. That’s not a coincidence. Generational trauma, historic oppression, discrimination and other societal factors and inequities create community-wide vulnerabilities. Traffickers recognize and take advantage of people who are vulnerable in certain ways.

People you know might be vulnerable to trafficking if they:

  • Have an unstable living situation
  • Have a history of domestic violence
  • Has a caregiver or family member who has a substance abuse issue
  • Are runaways or involved in the juvenile justice or foster care system
  • Are undocumented immigrants
  • Are facing poverty or economic need
  • Have a history of sexual abuse
  • Are addicted to drugs or alcohol

How Traffickers Lure People In

Stories become weapons in the hands of human traffickers – fantastical tales of romantic love everlasting and happily ever afters, or tall tales about decent jobs, good wages, waiting for vulnerable workers, just over the horizon. Sometimes, the stories themselves raise red flags. Let’s say, for example, a teacher learns her student plans to run away with a man who promises to make her a model. Other times, traffickers or potential traffickers tip their hands through recruitment.

Here are a few situations that might raise concerns:

  • A would-be employer refuses to give workers a signed contract, or asks them to sign a contract in a language they can’t read
  • A would-be employer charges a potential worker fees for the “opportunity” to work in a particular job
  • A friend, family member, co-worker or student appears to be newly showered with gifts or money or otherwise become the object of some kind of overwhelming, fast-moving and asymmetric (young/older; wealthy/struggling) romantic relationship
  • A family member, friend, co-worker or student is developing a relationship which seems “too close” with someone they know solely on social media
  • A family member, friend or co-worker is offered a job opportunity that appears too good to be true
  • A family member, friend or co-worker is recruited for an opportunity that requires them to move far away but their recruiter/prospective employer evades answering their questions or is reluctant to provide detailed information about the job.

Need help? Polaris operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline.

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