A boy notices that his sister has been going out more frequently. He knows their parents do not condone her having a boyfriend and covers for her when she goes out to see him. He has only met the boyfriend once and knows that they fight a lot. He wishes they would break up. His sister always looks so tired and is no longer doing her art, which he knows she loves. When he confronts his sister about her boyfriend, she gets angry and refuses to discuss it. He notices some bruises on her neck.
Trafficking can happen to anyone and the signs that it is occurring can vary. Oftentimes, when someone is being trafficked, those around them notice something is “off”, but aren’t quite sure what is going on. Traffickers will isolate Victims from their support systems, making it difficult for them to access help. If you notice the following signs in someone you know, they may be a Victim of sex trafficking. As a first step, please contact the Human Trafficking National Hotline (1-833-900-1010) for help.
Changes in Social Media Use
Are there suddenly new and unsavoury “friends” popping up on the social media followers list of someone you know? 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 and more sexualized than before? Often when an individual is being trafficked for sex they will be bought and sold online.
Changes in Behaviour
Victims of trafficking will often exhibit mood swings. This occurs initially when the trafficker is manipulating her into putting his needs before her own, rewiring her brain to be receptive to reward and punishment, resulting in constant shifts in her demeanour. Have you noticed that she seems increasingly fearful, anxious, or irritable? Does she avoid making eye contact with you? If you question her on how she is spending her time, does she seem evasive? Victims of trafficking will often feel very alone, resentful and ashamed of their situation. The trafficker knows how to cause these feelings and will foster an exploitative environment that keeps their Victim vulnerable, isolated, and controlled. If you notice these unusual shifts of behaviour in someone you know, you have reason to be concerned.
Lack of Autonomy
Often when someone is being trafficked, their trafficker will strip them of their own identity to coerce them into submission. The first step in this process is a name change. The Victim will be given a new name under which their new identity is established. The trafficker will also take and withhold her money, personal possessions, and pieces of identification so that she has no means of taking care of herself and needs to rely on the trafficker and her new identity. The trafficker will also use intimidation tactics and threats of violence to control what she does, how she does it, and what she can say. If you notice that someone you know shows signs of being in a controlling relationship, does not seem to have the possessions she used to, or is using a name that is not her own, this is cause for concern.
Changes in Physical Appearance
When someone is being trafficked, their physical appearance will often change. Do they look tired and malnourished? Are they often complaining about a lack of sleep? Are there increasing signs of addiction and drug abuse? Do they seem to be less or more hygienic than is normal for them? If you notice a drastic change in their general appearance, this could be a red flag. If you are noticing signs of physical or sexual abuse, it is time to seek help.
If you suspect or realize that someone you know is being Trafficked, do not act alone. Contact the Human Trafficking National Hotline (1-833-900-1010) for help. For youth who know someone that is being trafficked, consider reaching out to a trusted and caring adult, such as a guardian or a teacher who can offer assistance.