Identify & Assist a Trafficking Victim

Everyone has the potential to discover a human trafficking situation. While the victims may sometimes be kept behind locked doors, they are often hidden right in front of us at, for example, construction sites, restaurants, elder care centers, nail salons, agricultural fields, and hotels. Traffickers’ use of coercion – such as threats of deportation and harm to the victim or their family members – is so powerful that even if you reach out to victims, they may be too fearful to accept your help. Knowing indicators of human trafficking and some follow up questions will help you act on your gut feeling that something is wrong and report it.

Human Trafficking Indicators
While not an exhaustive list, these are some key red flags that could alert you to a potential trafficking situation that should be reported:

Living in same place they work or lives 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; bruises
Submissive or fearful; depressed
Unpaid or paid very little
Under 18 and in prostitution
Accompanied by a controlling person or boss; not speaking on own behalf
Lack of control over personal schedule, money, ID or travel documents
Debt owed to employer; inability to leave job

Questions to Ask
Assuming you have the opportunity to speak with a potential victim privately and without jeopardizing the victim’s safety because the trafficker is watching, here are some sample questions to ask to follow up on the red flags you became alert to:

Can you leave your job if you want to?
Can you come and go as you please?
What type of work do you do?
Do you have to ask permission to eat/sleep/go to the bathroom?
Have you been hurt or threatened if you tried to leave?
Has your family been threatened?
Do you live with your employer?
Where do you sleep and eat?
Are you in debt to your employer?
Do you have your documentation/identification? Who has it?


You, as an informed citizen, may be someone’s only hope of escape. Know the signs, learn to ask questions, and respond when you suspect trafficking or exploitation. Call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s 24 hotline at 1-888-3737-888 to report a tip or seek assistance; call DVSAC’s 24 crisis line at 530-272-3467 or call your local law enforcement.