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Fact Sheet
Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Washington, DC
July 9, 2008

How Can I Recognize Trafficking Victims?

Trafficking in persons is modern-day slavery, involving victims who are forced, defrauded or coerced into labor or sexual exploitation. Annually, about 800,000 people—mostly women and children—are trafficked across national borders. This number does not count the millions of people trafficked within their own countries. Because trafficking in persons is usually an “underground” crime, it can be difficult to identify. Most trafficking victims will not readily volunteer information about their status due to a combination of fear, intimidation, abuse, and psychological controls they’ve suffered at the hands of their trafficker—including threats of retribution to themselves or family members.

Where are Trafficking Victims Likely to be Found?

Sex Trafficking

Victims of sex trafficking are often found on the streets or working in establishments that offer commercial sex acts, either overtly or under some other guise, such as massage parlors, escort services, adult bookstores, modeling studios, and bars/strip clubs.

Labor Trafficking

Victims of labor trafficking can be found in sweatshops (where abusive labor standards are present), commercial agricultural situations (fields, processing plants, canneries), domestic situations (maids, nannies), construction sites (particularly if public access is denied), and in forms of restaurant and custodial work.

Visible Indications of Trafficking

On Location:

  • Heavy security at the commercial establishment including barred windows, locked doors, isolated location, electronic surveillance. Women are never seen leaving the premises unless escorted.
  • Victims live at the same premises as the brothel or work site or are driven between quarters and “work” by a guard. For labor trafficking, victims are often prohibited from leaving the work site, which may look like a guarded compound from the outside
  • Victims are kept under surveillance when taken to a doctor, hospital or clinic for treatment; trafficker may act as a translator.
  • High foot traffic especially for brothels where there may be trafficked women indicated often by a stream of men arriving or leaving the premises

Of the Trafficking Victim:

  • Behavioral Indications
    • Does not hold his/her own identity or travel documents;
    • Suffers from verbal or psychological abuse designed to intimidate, degrade and frighten the individual;
    • Has a trafficker or pimp who controls all the money;
    • Is extremely nervous, especially if their “translator” (who may be their trafficker) is present during an intake.
  • Physical Indications
    • Malnutrition, dehydration or poor personal hygiene;
    • Sexually transmitted diseases;
    • Signs of rape or sexual abuse
    • Bruising, broken bones, or other signs of untreated medical problems;
    • Critical illnesses including diabetes, cancer or heart disease; and
    • Post-traumatic stress or psychological disorders


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