Due to their extremely high level of fear and the trauma bonds many of them have established with their abusers, victims of commercial sexual exploitation rarely say that they are being exploited or ask for help.  They will often avoid law enforcement, and since their pimps may be watching them, they usually refuse offers of help. While every situation is different, some basic indicators of sex trafficking may include:

  • Excess amount of cash or unidentifiable source of income

  • Unexplained source of new clothing, jewelry, etc.

  • Hotel room keys

  • Chronic ditching of school, unexplained absences

  • Chronic runaway/homelessness

  • Isolation from family and friends

  • Signs of branding, tattoos with male names

  • Lying about age/false identification

  • Inconsistencies in story

  • Lack of knowledge of a given community or whereabouts

  • Presence of an overly controlling and abusive “boyfriend”

  • Inability or fear to make eye contact

  • Paranoia, lack of trust

  • Signs of physical abuse or malnourishment

  • Untreated health/dental problems

  • Restricted/scripted communication

  • Self blame, feelings of shame and humiliation

  • Claims of being an adult although appearance suggests adolescent features

(Click on the image above to download your own card to fold and keep in your wallet to help identify potential trafficking situations.)

(Click on the image above to download your own card to fold and keep in your wallet to help identify potential trafficking situations.)


The following information is directly from research done by the National Human Trafficking Hotline and Polaris Project

Common Work and Living Conditions:

  • Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes

  • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager

  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips

  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours

  • Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work

  • Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off

  • Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work

  • High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)

Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior:

  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid

  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement

  • Avoids eye contact

Poor Physical Health:

  • Lacks medical care and/or is denied medical services by employer

  • Appears malnourished or shows signs of repeated exposure to harmful chemicals

  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture

Lack of Control:

  • Has few or no personal possessions

  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account

  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)

  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)


  • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address

  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or of what city he/she is in

  • Loss of sense of time

  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story