Child and youth victims of human trafficking often may be difficult to identify or locate. It is vitally important for child welfare professionals, runaway and homeless youth service providers, domestic violence service providers, law enforcement, educators, and the community at large to become familiar with the warning signs that a young person is at risk or is a victim of human trafficking.
Possible Red Flags
While not an exhaustive list, these are some key red flags that could alert you to a potential trafficking situation that should be reported (U.S. Department of State, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons):
- Living with employer
- Poor living conditions
- Multiple people in cramped space
- Inability to speak to individual alone
- Answers appear to be scripted and rehearsed
- Employer is holding identity documents
- Signs of physical abuse
- Submissive or fearful
- Unpaid or paid very little
- Under 18 and in prostitution
Bought and Sold: Recognizing and Assisting Youth Victims of Domestic Sex Trafficking
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Family and Youth Services Bureau (2017)
Provides information for child welfare agencies, youth-serving organizations, and others who may be in contact with young people who may be sexually exploited or trafficked. The publication reviews who is most at risk, what signs to look for, and how to get support and resources to help victims and potential victims.
How Can Child Protection Agencies Identify and Support Youth Involved in or at Risk of Commercial Child Sexual Exploitation?
Casey Family Programs (2020)
Describes risk factors for human trafficking and sexual exploitation, including involvement with the child welfare system, running away, and child sexual abuse. The article also reviews challenges to screening for human trafficking, how child protection agencies can work on prevention, congregate care considerations, services for victims, and more.
Human Trafficking and Child Welfare: A Guide for Caseworkers
Human Trafficking and Child Welfare: A Guide for Child Welfare Agencies
Identify and Assist a Trafficking Victim
U.S. Department of State (2017)
Provides information on human trafficking indicators and questions to raise with potential victims in private without jeopardizing their safety. The website also lists resources for where to get help if a trafficking situation is suspected.
Identifying Minors and Young People Exploited Through Sex Trafficking: A Resource for Child Welfare Agencies (PDF - 194 KB)
Child Welfare Capacity Building Collaborative (2016)
Discusses sex trafficking risk factors for children and youth, presents steps to take before implementing a tool to address sex trafficking, and lists information on identifying victims for child welfare professionals.
Indicators of Human Trafficking
U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Blue Campaign
Offers a list of ways to identify human trafficking, which is the first step in helping victims and combating trafficking. The website also offers a link to the Blue Campaign's indicator card, a small plastic card that lists common signs of human trafficking and information on how to report the crime.
Look Beneath the Surface Regional Anti-Trafficking Program
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office on Trafficking in Persons (2019)
Discusses an anti-trafficking program that serves targeted areas and focuses on identifying victims of severe forms of human trafficking. The website provides data about the program for the years 2014–2019.
Recognizing the Crime
Human Trafficking Task Force e-Guide
U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime Training and Technical Assistance Center
Presents indicators of human trafficking to create awareness of the presence of human trafficking in everyday life.
Recognizing the Signs
National Human Trafficking Hotline
Explains who may be most vulnerable to human trafficking, who traffickers may be, and how traffickers lure people. The website also provides examples of situations that may be an indication of human trafficking.
Toolkit and Guide: Adult Human Trafficking Screening
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office on Trafficking in Persons (2018)
Offers a survivor-centered, trauma-informed screening tool to assess adults for human trafficking victimization. The tool includes eight culturally appropriate screening questions that are short, minimally invasive, and closed ended to obtain the information needed to identify an adult at risk of being trafficked. The tool is also available in Spanish.
The Typology of Modern Slavery
Describes 25 distinct types of sex and labor trafficking, detailing the trafficker profile, victim profile, recruitment tactics, and method of control.
Find more resources about identifying human trafficking through Child Welfare Information Gateway's Library by choosing a topic below. Search results are updated continually and include documents from 2012 to the present.
- Human Trafficking Research and Data
- Human Trafficking Screening and Assessment Tools
- Addressing Human Trafficking in a Health Care Setting
- Addressing Human Trafficking in a School Setting
- Addressing Human Trafficking in the Legal Field