In honor of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, continuing the conversation about the dangers of human trafficking today is paramount. That’s why learning to recognize its subtle and specific signs can help both raise awareness and prevent it from happening.
Keeping our youth safe and out of harm’s way is an incredible feat of responsibility. Because of this, caretakers – such as drivers, teachers, parents and guardians – can find peace of mind by understanding what child trafficking is and how to spot it.
Traffickers are known for deliberately targeting vulnerable populations. While anyone can experience the threat of trafficking, the National Human Trafficking Hotline states that significant risk factors include recent migration or relocation, substance use, mental health concerns, involvement with the children welfare system, and being a runaway or youth experiencing homelessness.
In fact, the organization states that individuals who are experiencing unstable life conditions or who are part of marginalized demographic groups are at an increased likelihood of experiencing trafficking. Generational trauma, historic oppression, discrimination, and other social determinants and injustices can also inflict vulnerabilities among communities. Essentially, these vulnerabilities provide loopholes for traffickers to exploit people and build calculated dependency.
According to Unicef USA, it is estimated that over 150 million children around the world confront the perils of child labor. One in four victims suffering from modern slavery are children and most are found to be girls. In 2020 – out of 10,583 cases nationwide – the National Human Trafficking Hotline identified 2,488 victims as children. Trafficked children can experience dire situations like prostitution, online sexual exploitation, the illegal drug trade and forced labor. Furthermore, 60% of child sex trafficking victims are connected to the U.S. child welfare system. Despite traffickers known to globally amass $39 billion annually on the exploitation of children, preventing such crimes inevitably relies on the human collective.
Keeping Children Safe
Noticing the signs of children being exploited are critical to both preventing and alleviating the issue of trafficking. However, not every sign is obvious.
STOP THE TRAFFIK – a UK based human trafficking prevention pioneer – stresses that indicators of sexual and labor exploitation of children are not always the same. Varying signs can make it difficult to decipher whether a child is a victim. Even children themselves may not be aware that what is happening to them is wrong. However, being cognizant to appearance, behavior, adult figures around, location, and potentially knowing the child can significantly help alleviate the burden of trafficking. The organization emphasizes these five key factors to keep on everyone’s radar.
- How does the child look?
- Do they look unkempt or are they wearing expensive clothes they can’t afford?
- Do their clothes fit? Are they suitable for the current weather?
- Are there any physical traumas present?
- Are there any unusual physical markings (tattoos, etc.)?
- How does the child act?
- Can the child look at you with direct eye contact?
- Are they afraid of other adults and children?
- Do they act hostile towards people of authority?
Adult Figures Around
- Are they chaperoned by an adult figure?
- If so, are they spoken or interpreted for?
- Is the child found in unusual places at peculiar times?
Already Knowing the Child
- Has their behavior changed (i.e. becoming withdrawn, aggressive, etc.)?
- Do you notice family members commanding their movements?
- Are they now always with the guidance of an adult despite being able to move freely before?
- Have they been removed from school?
- Have there been new children who’ve moved into their family home?
If you see something, say something. Children are one of the most vulnerable populations and it’s up to communities as a whole to protect them from the threat of trafficking.
To report potential child trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 1-888-373-7888 and/or 911 for cases of immediate danger. For more information, read the Annual Report released by the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, and the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking.