By Levin Simes Abrams
September 21, 2022

What Are the Top 5 Signs of Human Trafficking?

Recognizing the signs of human trafficking can help free people and save lives.

Human trafficking is the unlawful transportation or coercion of individuals to exploit their work or service — often in the form of forced labor or sexual servitude. Stopping or preventing human trafficking can be done if the signs are noticed and reported to the appropriate authorities.

By knowing what human trafficking looks like in the real world, in your neighborhood, and in the behaviors of individuals you meet, you can help keep yourself and others safe. By contacting an experienced attorney, you can help disrupt, clean up, or shut down businesses and operations that support or allow human trafficking to exist.

Levin Simes Abrams is a San Francisco-based law firm that litigates cases of sexual assault and human trafficking on behalf of survivors, their families, and our shared communities. If you need to speak with an attorney, contact us right away at (415) 426-3000 for a completely confidential consultation.

What Are Physical Signs of Human Trafficking?

When interacting with an individual, here are the top five physical signs of human trafficking:

1. Unexplained Injuries or Bruises

Unexplained bruises and injuries, especially if they occur frequently, are a strong indicator of abuse. Bruises from abuse may have characteristics like:

  • Clusters of bruises indicating repeated strikes to the area
  • Grab marks, especially when found on the upper arms, outer thighs, or on the neck
  • Defensive injuries, lacerations like a split lip, and painful damage to the torso that causes a person to move gingerly, clutch their ribs, or stoop and wince when engaged in activity

There are certain medical conditions, vitamin deficiencies, or medications that make some people bruise more easily than others. However, bruising and injuries from abuse often have other behavioral signs or context clues that indicate mistreatment (see the next point for further behavioral details).

2. Submissive or Fearful Behavior

Concerning behavior related to human trafficking could include:

  • Avoiding eye contact and social interactions
  • Reluctance to interact with authority figures or law enforcement
  • Overly sexualized behavior such as calling an unrelated boyfriend or male “daddy”

It’s better to err on the side of caution and safety. If you suspect someone is being controlled or exploited by another person, report your observations to a trusted professional like a social worker, medical professional, law enforcement officer, or teacher/school counselor for teens and underage children.

Where can you report suspected sexual or illegal human trafficking behavior?

The following links and phone numbers are resources available if you suspect someone is being held or forced to work against their will:

3. Malnourishment

Poor physical or dental health could be a sign that someone is in an unsafe situation. According to the Cleveland Clinic, signs of malnourishment (aka malnutrition or undernutrition) include:

  • Low body weight that can be seen as prominent bones or depleted fat and muscles
  • Weakness, fatigue, and faintness
  • Inattention, apathy, or irritability
  • Brittle hair and unhealthy skin (inelastic skin, sallow appearance, and rashes or lesions)
  • Frequent infections, low blood pressure or heart rate, and low body temperature

Children who are malnourished may have stunted growth or display a delay in intellectual development.

4. Excessively Long Working Hours

The average work week for most American workers is 40 hours per week, meaning 8 hours per 5 weekdays. Any work in excess of these averages could indicate forced or exploited labor related to human trafficking.

Industries that are at high risk of human trafficking and worker exploitation include:

  • Domestic work like housekeeping or childcare
  • Agriculture, construction, and other hard labor work like fishing, forestry, and mining
  • Travelling sales or peddling and begging rings
  • Restaurants, hotels, and janitorial services
  • Transportation, warehousing, and mass manufacturing work in electronics and apparel

Another often illegal industry associated with human trafficking is sex work related to disreputable massage parlors, night clubs, or areas of prostitution. In these circumstances, the presence of tattoos or branding on the lower back or neck could be another sign of human trafficking. The same is true if a person has untreated sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

5. Lack of Independence

Dangerous signs that someone is being controlled by another against their will include:

  • Not being allowed to socialize with their peer group or go out alone
  • Seemingly scripted or rehearsed responses during social interactions
  • Lacking personal possessions or identifying documents

If someone isn’t allowed to go out without a chaperone or speak for themselves during gatherings, this could mean they are being trafficked or controlled.

Human trafficking is a violation of human rights. It happens all around the world, and in neighborhoods and communities of every kind. It’s important to report evidence of trafficking to the people and offices who can help. By doing so, you may help rescue those in distress and save future individuals from being victimized.

At Levin Simes Abrams, our attorneys work to bring human and sex trafficking operations into the open so those who’ve been harmed can be helped. Contact our offices at (415) 426-3000 — we can help investigate the individuals or businesses that allow or facilitate such heinous abuses, and bring them to justice.

What Are the Red Flags of Human Trafficking?

Here are further details that could indicate human trafficking is taking place in a specific location:

  • Workers living at their place of employment or with their employer
  • Multiple people living in cramped spaces or places with prison-like elements (barbed wire, bars covering the insides of windows)
  • Poor living conditions with limited privacy, lack of cleanliness or maintenance, or unreliable utilities (water, electricity)
  • Offices where personal identifying documents are held by the bosses or owners (IDs, passports, visas)
  • Spots of illegal prostitution (motels, clubs or bars with back rooms, illegitimate massages)

Any indication that people are unpaid or paid very little is another red flag indicator of human trafficking. Any time someone under 18 is working in prostitution in the United States, it is a crime involving a minor.

When Should You Contact Human Trafficking Attorneys?

After you report what you know to law enforcement or government officials, tell your story to a lawyer experienced in human trafficking litigation. Once the frontline defenders act to shut down a specific location and rescue the trafficked workers, there is still work to be done to root out the source of trafficking operations. Without finding the origin of these practices, human traffickers have an endless supply of innocent people to entrap, and their crimes against humanity will continue.

Legal advocates can help stop human trafficking by interrupting the businesses that profit from it. Those who perpetrate trafficking, and those who turn a blind eye to it for the sake of money, should be held accountable. It’s critical that there is no safe harbor for exploiting human suffering, servitude, and slavery.

Levin Simes Abrams has a unique and groundbreaking background in helping those who’ve survived sexual abuse, including rideshare assaults and childhood institutional abuse. Contact our lawyers at (415) 426-3000, or schedule a free, completely confidential consultation online. We handle every case with compassion, and treat every individual with the dignity they deserve.

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