Human trafficking is a transnational, organized crime that affects millions of victims and happens in almost every country in the world, including the United States. Anyone can be a trafficker regardless of social, ethnic, or racial group. Traffickers exploit victims for sex and forced labor by using tactics such as grooming, emotional exploitation, physical restriction, restriction of freedom such as constant surveillance, debt bondage, and verbal threats. But how do you identify potential victims?

Questions that can help identify potential victims of sex trafficking without jeopardizing the victim’s safety include:

  • Can you come and go as you please?
  • Have you been hurt or threatened if you tried to leave?
  • Has your family been threatened?
  • Where do you eat and sleep?

Although these questions do not always identify a victim of trafficking, they may help point out red flags regarding this person’s care or condition. Other signs that a person may be a victim of trafficking is if they have an unstable family life, are at risk of being homeless or running away from home, have severe family or personal issues such as drug addiction, alcoholism, and/or abuse, show signs of fear, anxiety, tension, depression, paranoid behavior, and lastly, if they seem interested in relationships with older men or sketchy individuals.

Only 1% of sex trafficking victims are rescued. And although it is important to report or speak up when you feel someone is being trafficked, it is important that you stay safe. 

If you suspect trafficking, do not confront a suspected trafficker. If it is an emergency situation, call 911. Let them know if the situation involves a minor. 

Otherwise, observe the situation from a distance and take slow cautious steps. It is better to let the victim approach you since most victims are being watched by their trafficker. You should be prepared to take down and provide as much information about the situation as possible such as location, date, time, age of the victim, frequency of the abuse or exploitation, and any other information you may feel will bring insight to the issue. If you do not know much information, still report what you know. Any clues may help bring a victim one step closer to being a survivor. 

Share what you suspect by calling to report a tip anonymously to one of these organizations: 

  • The National Human Trafficking Hotline is a national, anti-trafficking hotline and resource center that you can access live 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can contact them via phone call, text message, and even online live chat. Victims and survivors can receive access to resources such as hotels, motels, and transportation. 
  • The National Runaway Switchboard is a federally designed national communication system for homeless and runaway youth. You can report a tip to the NRS through a hotline, text message, and online services. The NRS provides crisis intervention, referrals to local resources, and education and prevention services to youth, families, and the community. You can access the NRS 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
  • The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is the nation’s reporting center for all issues related to child abduction, abuse, and exploitation. The NCMEC also has an extensive list of educational materials regarding issues such as trafficking, autism and wandering, sexting and sextortion, and prevention.


Learn more about how to identify victims of sex trafficking with our online anti-trafficking course, Red Flags. Learn how traffickers groom people and also how to recognize the appearance, behavior, and communication flags of victims. 



    1. Human Trafficking: The Problem. (n.d.). Retrieved September 29, 2021, from 

    2. Signs of trafficking and how to report suspected trafficking. Shared Hope International. (2020, January 23). Retrieved September 29, 2021, from 

    3. Someone I know needs help: Project no rest – end human trafficking in NC. Project No Rest | North Carolina’s Response to Human Trafficking. (n.d.). Retrieved September 29, 2021, from

    4. U.S. Department of State. (2021, January 10). Identify and assist a trafficking victim – united states department of state. U.S. Department of State. Retrieved September 29, 2021, from