Be the Light: Understanding and Combating Human Trafficking

by Tammie Nielsen



In the dark underbelly of society, human trafficking persists as a violation of fundamental human rights, leaving countless lives shattered. As we unveil the harsh realities of this unspeakable crime, we must empower ourselves with knowledge. This blog post aims to shed light on the signs of human trafficking, identify those at risk, and provide valuable resources for combating this pervasive issue.

Homeless or Unhoused Youth:

Amid the harsh realities of life on the streets, homeless or unhoused youth find themselves at an alarming risk for human trafficking. Struggling to meet basic needs, these vulnerable individuals become prime targets for traffickers who exploit their desperation. The absence of stable support systems and the constant struggle for survival make them susceptible to false promises of shelter, sustenance, and a way out of their dire circumstances. Traffickers exploit their isolation, drawing them into situations where they use manipulation and coercion to assert control. Recognizing the intricate challenges faced by homeless youth is essential in developing targeted interventions that address the root causes and empower them to escape the clutches of trafficking.

Those with Substance Abuse Disorders:

Individuals battling substance abuse disorders grapple not only with the challenges of addiction but also with an elevated risk of falling victim to human trafficking. Addiction often leads to strained relationships, isolation, and financial instability, creating a breeding ground for exploitation. Traffickers capitalize on their vulnerability, offering substances or the illusion of relief from addiction in exchange for compliance. The promise of escape from the cycle of substance abuse becomes a powerful tool for traffickers to trap individuals in situations of further victimization. 

Survivors of Other Forms of Past Violence, Specifically Domestic Violence:

Survivors of domestic violence, having endured trauma within the confines of their homes, face an increased risk of falling prey to human trafficking. The scars of past abuse, both physical and psychological, leave survivors vulnerable and seeking safety and stability. Traffickers exploit this vulnerability, offering false promises of protection and a way out. The desire to escape their traumatic past becomes a weapon wielded by traffickers to manipulate survivors into situations of further victimization. It is crucial to recognize the specific challenges faced by survivors of domestic violence integrating trauma-informed care into prevention efforts. By providing comprehensive support that addresses the unique needs of these individuals, we can dismantle the pathways that traffickers exploit, fostering an environment where survivors can rebuild their lives free from exploitation.

Individuals Who’ve Been in Foster Care or Juvenile Facilities 

Emerging from the often intense environment of foster care or juvenile facilities, individuals face a heightened vulnerability to human trafficking. The disruption of family structures and the absence of stable support systems leave them grappling with a sense of isolation and uncertainty about their futures. Traffickers cunningly exploit this void, promising support, belonging, and a way forward. The desire for a stable and caring family environment and the challenges of establishing independence make these individuals susceptible to manipulation.

The lack of strong familial connections and the struggle to find a foothold in society create a precarious situation, leaving former foster care or juvenile facility residents susceptible to traffickers who prey on their yearning for stability. Without a robust support network, these individuals may be exploited and trapped by false promises and deceptive schemes. Recognizing the unique challenges faced by those who have experienced foster care or juvenile facilities is essential in crafting targeted interventions. By addressing the root causes and providing tailored support, we can empower these individuals to break free from the cycle of vulnerability and build a future free from exploitation.

Unveiling the Tactics: How Human Traffickers Trap Individuals

Human traffickers wield stories as powerful weapons, weaving narratives of eternal romantic love or promising dreams of lucrative employment just beyond the horizon. These tales, however, often serve as red flags, signaling potential danger. In recruitment, traffickers reveal their deceptive tactics, prompting concerns in various situations.

Signs of concern may arise when:

  1. An aspiring employer denies workers a signed contract or requests a contract in an unreadable language.
  2. Fees are collected from potential workers, framing it as an “opportunity” to secure a specific job.
  3. Someone close, be it a friend, family member, co-worker, or student, experiences an abrupt influx of gifts or money, entering into a rapidly progressing, one-sided romantic relationship.
  4. A frequent runaway, whether a friend, family member, or student, seeks refuge with someone other than their parent or guardian.
  5. A connection develops solely through social media, raising suspicions about the closeness of the relationship for a family member, friend, or student.
  6. Signs of abuse emerge in a family member, friend, or co-worker living with a parent or guardian.
  7. A family member, friend, or co-worker presents a job offer that appears too good to be true.
  8. The recruiter or potential employer evades providing comprehensive details about the job when recruiting for an opportunity that requires relocation.

Knowing the Signs

Behavioral indicators offer valuable insights into potential cases of human trafficking. Victims frequently display extreme fear and anxiety, avoiding eye contact and adopting an excessively submissive demeanor. Traffickers employ isolation as a control tactic, severing connections with family, friends, and the community.

Physical indicators further highlight the trauma experienced by trafficked individuals. Malnutrition and poor hygiene are evident signs, with victims appearing malnourished and displaying inadequate personal care due to harsh living conditions. Visible injuries, bruises, or broken bones may indicate ongoing physical abuse, often concealed by victims who are hesitant to seek medical attention.

A disturbing marker of ownership employed by traffickers is the use of tattoos or branding on victims. Identifying these markings becomes crucial in recognizing and aiding victims, offering a pathway to intervention and support.

Environmental indicators encompass the squalid and overcrowded living conditions imposed on victims. The lack of basic amenities serves as a red flag, prompting a closer examination of potential trafficking situations. Constant surveillance, whether through technology or physical presence, further reinforces the trafficker’s control, instilling fear that hinders victims from seeking assistance.

Financial dependence is another significant environmental indicator, with victims often having limited or no control over their earnings. Exploiting this vulnerability, traffickers perpetuate a cycle of dependency that seemingly makes escape impossible. Understanding these behavioral, physical, and environmental indicators is crucial for identifying and addressing human trafficking and offering hope and support to those trapped by this heinous crime.

Confidential Help is available 24/7 

The Bridge Hotline


24-hour online chat (bottom right corner)

National Human Trafficking Hotline


TTY: 711

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