Recognizing The Signs

Others, Suffering , Trafficking

Contributed by: Hope Restored

Can you recognize the signs of trafficking? Would you know if your friend was caught in the cycle of abuse leading to sexual exploitation? Do you think trafficking could never happen to anyone you know? Recognizing the signs can help us support those who are being trafficked or exploited.

Let’s look at some of the red flags that may indicate trafficking.

Exhibiting a sudden change in behavior

Perhaps they were outgoing and bubbly; now they’re sullen and secluded. Often a person will pull themselves away from people and activities they would have previously engaged in.


Due to working at night and unusual sleep patterns, exploited and trafficked individuals will be tired and listless during the day. Their tiredness will likely be ‘unexplainable’.  When approached about it, they may react with paranoia, fear, anxiety, and/or stories with details that don’t add up or make sense.

A New Tattoo or ‘Brand’

The traffickers’ initials may suddenly appear somewhere on their body in the form of a tattoo or carving. Just like cattle branding, this symbol or saying indicates ownership by a trafficker, pimp, or gang. It could include a saying about money, ‘the life’ or ‘the game’. These are often on a visible part of the body i.e. the face or arms, but may be found in an area that only is seen while busting dates.


The traffickers may likely threaten them and potentially their loved ones, in turn, an individual who is exploited may distance themselves from family and friends. They might create seemingly genuine excuses for canceling plans.

Inconsistency in the details

When telling their story or their whereabouts, someone who’s being trafficked may lack consistency in the details.

Unexplained new things or money

Sometimes traffickers use luxurious gifts to lure people. When a person comes from an unstable home or is already a victim of abuse, these gifts seem like a lifeline and a beacon of hope. The ‘strings’ attached are not always immediately visible due to expert manipulation on the part of the trafficker.

Expanding boundaries or values

A person who’s being exploited may show signs of loosening their values or boundaries in an effort to assuage a pimp or trafficker. They may suddenly dress inappropriately for their age or environment for the same reasons.

Afraid of law enforcement or authority

Believing the lies a trafficker has told them, a person might be genuinely afraid of police or other authority figures. They might be extremely resistant to receiving help because they may have been threatened and manipulated into silence.

Show signs of a controlling or abusive relationship

Perhaps they are never alone anymore and are always accompanied by a ‘boyfriend’. It’s possible for a trafficker to take complete control of their money, ID, and possessions to have ultimate influence over an individual’s ability to be autonomous.

Although trafficking disproportionately affects individuals who are homeless, lack proper supports, have mental or physical disabilities, are abused, or who have illegal immigration status, the reaches of trafficking stretch beyond class, ethnicity, and level of education. It’s important to know the warning signs so that we can resource those affected by trafficking. Together we can help people shed the label of victim, and instead become survivors and warriors.

If you already have a healthy relationship with the individual and their safety isn’t in jeopardy, you may choose to have a caring conversation with them about these new developments.  Then offer resources, support, and assistance as they are ready.

However, if there seems to be a great deal of control and fear of physical harm or safety, it would be best to contact the local police with the details.  As the observer, we want to be cautious not to engage in a way that may cause potential worse threat or harm to the person.

If you need resources or assistance, feel free to reach out to us at or contact the Canadian Nation Human Trafficking Hotline 1-833-900-1010. You may also choose to pass along the contact for the Chrysalis anti human trafficking network. They are a great resource, and support those not ready to exit.