Potential Indicators of Trafficking

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Recognizing the signs of human trafficking is the first step in identifying victims. A common misconception is that human trafficking is a crime that only occurs in other countries or to foreign nationals. However, domestic human trafficking is equally as likely to occur. Domestic trafficking is the forced labor, domestic servitude, and commercial sex trafficking of U.S. citizens.

The indicators below are some potential red flags to look for when identifying victims of domestic sex trafficking. Not all of the indicators listed here are present in every trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators is not necessarily proof of human trafficking.

Potential Indicators of Domestic Sex Trafficking:

  • Does not appear to have a permanent home — possibly “throwaway” youth
  • Repeatedly “running away from home”
  • Multiple cell phons/burner phones — number constantly changing
  • Not enrolled or regularly attending school
  • New clothes or accessories with no explanation
  • Money, electronics, clothing, manicures or other items with no explanation as to how these were obtained
  • Receiving phone calls from older men or women
  • Refers to someone in person or in phone contact as “Daddy”
  • Numerous pre-paid cards
  • May have many of their belongings with them
  • Large amount of condoms/baby wipes
  • Behavioral changes
  • Tattoos with names or certain symbols

While trafficking affects individuals from all demographics, some populations are more vulnerable and at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking including: children, individuals experiencing poverty and/or homelessness, victims of prior sexual violence, and individuals with learning disabilities.

Close to 45% of the sex trafficking victims that the YWCA servers have been diagnosed with a learning disability.

“Studies indicate that people with developmental disabilities are four to ten times more likely to have acts of violence committed against them.”

— Sorensen, David D (9 August 2002).
“The Invisible Victims: an update of an article originally published in
Prosecutor’s Brief: the California District Attorneys Associations Quarterly Journal “


“Some literature has begun to recognize a correlation between …learning disabilities, and sexual exploitation…the later the disability is diagnosed and an appropriate education plan put in place, the greater the likelihood of the girl experiencing failure in school…low self-esteem, making her vulnerable to exploitation.”

— (Harway & Liss, 1999)