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The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime developed a comprehensive list of trafficking indicators (signs of human trafficking) to help the public recognize the signs a person may have been trafficked. Some of these indicators are listed below. 

Please Note: The signs of human trafficking vary by location and demographic. Not all indicators are present in all trafficking situations. Although the presence or absence of any of the indicators neither proves nor disproves that human trafficking is taking place, their presence should lead to investigation.

People who have been trafficked may:

  • Believe that they must work against their will
  • Be unable to leave their work environment
  • Show signs that their movements are being controlled
  • Feel that they cannot leave
  • Show fear or anxiety
  • Be subjected to violence or threats of violence against themselves or against their family members and loved ones
  • Suffer injuries that appear to be the result of an assault
  • Be distrustful of the authorities
  • Be afraid of revealing their immigration status
  • Not be in possession of their passports or other travel or identity documents, as those documents are being held by someone else
  • Have false identity or travel documents
  • Not know their home or work address
  • Allow others to speak for them when addressed directly
  • Act as if they were instructed by someone else
  • Be unable to negotiate working conditions
  • Receive little or no payment
  • Have no access to their earnings
  • Work excessively long hours over long periods
  • Not have any days off
  • Live in poor or substandard accommodations
  • Have no access to medical care
  • Have limited or no social interaction
  • Have limited contact with their families or with people outside of their immediate environment
  • Be unable to communicate freely with others
  • Be in a situation of dependence
  • Have had the fees for their transport to the country of destination paid for by facilitators, whom they must pay back by working or providing services in the destination

People who have been trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation may:

  • Be of any age, although the age may vary according to the location and the market
  • Move from one brothel to the next or work in various locations
  • Be escorted whenever they go to and return from work and other outside activities
  • Have tattoos or other marks indicating “ownership” by their exploiters
  • Sleep where they work
  • Live or travel in a group, sometimes with other women who do not speak the same language
  • Have very few items of clothing
  • Have clothes that are mostly the kind typically worn for doing sex work
  • Have no cash of their own
  • Be unable to show an identity document

You can play a role in preventing human trafficking.

Learn the signs of human trafficking and report suspicious situations. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. To report human trafficking in Canada, call the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-833-900-1010. To report human trafficking in the United States, call Polaris Project at 1-888-373-7888.

Sources: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime: Human Trafficking Indicators | Government of British Columbia: Signs that a Person Might be Trafficked | Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking: Signs of Human Trafficking

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