• Brooke Ruhl

Identifying Victims of Human Trafficking: Sex Trafficking

As I explained in a recent blog post, human trafficking is very broad and widespread, spanning out through many different places and for many different reasons. Because of this, understanding all the signs that indicate human trafficking is very difficult. But for the most part, there are some signs that are more common, specifically for victims of sex trafficking. Although it is important to realize some victims of human trafficking may not show any signs at all, here are some of the most obvious indicators.

Photo by Camila Quintero Franco

Physical Indicators

Human traffickers often use force to coerce their victims. Because of this there are often physical tells, such as bruises or broken bones. Bruises change color while they heal, so different color bruises indicate different stages of healing, or abuse over time. Another physical attribute victims may have are unexplainable tattoos, maybe of names or numbers, similar to branding marks on cattle.

But force is not the only physical indicator. Hunger or starvation can also be a tactic used by traffickers, so it can be important to red flag noticeable weight loss. The other two common physical tells are sleep deprivation or excessive tiredness, and drug addiction.

Mental Indicators

Some of the mental indicators to look out for are signs of damaged personalities. People who appear scared, jumpy and nervous, especially in crowds or around men could be victims of human trafficking. Victims may also be very withdrawn, and often avoid eye contact at all costs. Victims may also sound rehearsed when speaking, and may not be able to answer simple questions like why or where they are.

It is also important to look at mental cues between two people. For example, a woman who is seemingly submissive to the person she is with, doesn’t look up when addressed, or looks to the partner to answer questions and to follow may be a victim of trafficking. One huge indicator can be a controlling “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” with a sufficient age gap between them and the person they are with.

What do I do if I see someone with these indicators?

If you think you may know a victim of sex trafficking, there is a resource for you.

Add this contact into your phone just in case. You could be the person who saves lives and combats this worldwide pandemic.

National Human Trafficking Hotline


Check out more signs of human trafficking by watching this video by Blanket of Hope.

Tweet me!

@Brooke_Ruhl and use the hashtag #BRuhly_Trafficked


Brooke Ruhl

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Brooke Ruhl

University of Nevada Reno

2020 by Brooke Ruhl.