Is my friend being Sex Trafficked?

At BridgeNorth, we are committed to helping individuals who are currently being trafficked. Oftentimes, when someone is being trafficked, their loved ones notice something is “off,” but aren’t quite sure what is going on. Sex trafficking recruitment is insidious, and early intervention can make a big difference in the outcome of your loved one’s life. Here are some common signs that regularly occur when someone is being trafficked for sex:


Gut Instinct
This sign is very straightforward.  If your gut tells you something is “off,” then it probably is. You don’t need to have an exact answer or observe all of the other signs on this list. If your instinct is telling you something is wrong, please call us. You can also call The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking National Hotline (1-833-900-1010) for assistance or to leave an anonymous tip.

Social Media Changes
Is your friend’s social media changing? Are there suddenly new and unsavoury “friends” popping up on her friend or social media followers list? Or, are you suddenly unable to see her social media friends list at all because her settings have been changed to private? Do the images that she’s starting to share seem out of character? Often when an individual is being groomed or trafficked for sex, they will be recruited, bought, and sold online.

Friend Group Changes
Has your friend or loved one drastically changed their friend group? You might notice that one or more lifelong friends are no longer in the picture. If there have been unusual levels of conflict in their long-term friendships and these relationships seem to be changing slowly – or no longer there at all – you’re right to be concerned. When a perpetrator is beginning to recruit or traffic an individual, they often try to isolate the person from their support system, friends, and family.

Issues at School
Is your friend suddenly skipping school or not showing up to lunch like she normally does? Instead of sharing with you where she’s been, is she secretive about her whereabouts? Did she used to get decent grades, and is now barely passing… if at all? Unusual changes at school can be a sign of many things, but when combined with other red flags on this list, it can indicate that an individual is being trafficked for sex or groomed for sex trafficking.

Personal Style Changes
One sign of sex trafficking is a drastic change in personal style and/or grooming habits. If the individual you’re concerned about is taking an unusual interest in their appearance, this can be a red flag. Is she getting manicures more often than usual, wearing hair extensions, or applying significantly more makeup? Is she waxing and tanning when she never cared about these habits before and/or they’re not considered normal within her friend group? Are her clothes becoming provocative or out of character as well?

Expensive Gifts
Something that frequently happens when a girl is being sex trafficked (especially in the beginning stages) is that she will be given gifts. This often happens at the beginning to trick the girl into believing that her trafficker(s) have a lot to offer her and that her life will be better off with them in it.  Receiving expensive gifts also puts her in “debt” to the gift giver. Does your friend have items that  she would otherwise not be able to afford, like a pricey handbag or new designer clothes? When asked, is she vague about these items and who is giving them to her? Is she referencing a new “boyfriend” as the individual showering her with gifts?

Older Female Friends
This sign can be surprising, but it’s important to note. Many times, young girls are recruited into sex trafficking by women who are older than them.  If your loved one or friend has a new female friend who seems a bit too old for her to be hanging out with, you have a right to be concerned. An example of this might be a 20-year-old woman hanging out with a 14-year-old girl. Iif the age difference feels just a bit too big, it’s concerning. This is not normal, especially when accompanied by gifts, new clothes, and other items your friend would otherwise not be able to afford. If a new older female “friend” is involved or if the relationship feels “off” to you, you should be concerned.

New Male Friends or Boyfriends
Does your friend suddenly have a new boyfriend but you’ve never met them? Is this new boyfriend taking up all of their time, showering them with expensive gifts, and do they seem controlling? Have you suddenly been seeing a lot less of your friend? They might have an immediate, intense focus on a new boyfriend while their long-term relationships fall by the wayside. While some of these habits can feel normal in a new relationship, if you observe a new male friend/boyfriend in conjunction with others on this list, it’s a red flag. Trafficked persons are usually first groomed by “Romeo” pimps who shower them with affection and gifts to lure them into “the life.” These pimps will first pose as a boyfriend before a person is forced into prostitution, exotic dancing, massage, and/or pornography.

General Behavioural Changes
General behavioural changes are common with a victim who is being sex trafficked. Family and friends of the victim will notice something is “off” with their loved one, such as being withdrawn or having increased secretiveness. Does it seem like they are on their phone more often but hide their screen whenever you’re close by? Do they take excessive pictures of themselves, keep their phone face down when not in use, and keep the volume down or off on their phone? Does your friend seem more tired than usual and/or mention an ongoing lack of sleep? When an individual is being groomed and/or actively trafficked, their behaviour changes may be vague. Family and friends should trust their gut instincts in these situations and seek help if their loved one exhibits the behaviour changes described.

General Personality Changes
Does your friend glamourize a fast-paced, risky lifestyle? Do they seem to be swept up with materialistic things in a way they weren’t before? Sex traffickers often groom their victims with promises of a better life filled with expensive gifts, designer clothes, and job opportunities. These promises are a ruse and quickly fall away once the victim has been isolated from their loved ones, and the trafficking begins.

Changes in Language
Have you heard your friend refer to themselves as “Baby Bear?” Have they mentioned an older female friend called “Mama Bear?” What about a male friend they playfully refer to as “Daddy?” All of these language changes are major red flags because sex trafficking systems often mimic a “family style” hierarchy. If your friend is referring to themselves as someone’s “baby” or using other concerning language, call us immediately.

Drug Use
Is your friend experimenting with and/or regularly using drugs? Oftentimes, especially early on in the recruitment process, victims of sex trafficking are given a steady supply of drugs to get them hooked. It becomes difficult for a victim to leave their circumstances when they are physically addicted to substances being provided by their traffickers.

Other Evidence of Sex Trafficking
Other things you might see, hear, or notice include: carrying hotel keys, multiple social media accounts, and a sense of invincibility your friend didn’t have before.

Take Action

If you observe any of these signs with your friend or loved one, reach out to BridgeNorth for assistance. Although it may feel like you should intervene on behalf of the individual you suspect is a victim of sex trafficking, you should not. Intervening with their trafficker will put you both at enormous risk. While frightening, the reality is that your friend’s trafficker probably knows exactly who you are and is even considering targeting you too (pending your age). Sex trafficking is a vacuum, and if you go to try to help your friend, you are at risk of being trafficked yourself; traffickers call this a “two-for-one.” Do not try to go help your friend – instead, please reach out to us by phone or by filling out the contact form below.