Indicators of Human Trafficking

Imagine this… you pull into the gas station closest to your house late one evening, you are thirsty, so you decide to run in quick to grab something to drink. When you enter there are six other people in the convenience store including the clerk, one of these six is a victim of sex trafficking. Would you be able to identify which one?

Victims of human trafficking function and exist in society in the same manner as you and me. Statistics show that 55% of underage victims even report still attending school while being exploited [source: Thorn]. This is not a crime that solely exists in some deep dark basement. Victims walk into the same restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores as everyone else. Learn the indicators so you are always prepared to report a potential trafficking situation.

Please keep in mind that one indicator is usually not sufficient evidence to determine potential trafficking, you must look at the whole picture and see if you can recognize multiple indicators before deciding to report. However, if it is evident someone’s life is in immediate danger then report immediately.

Indicators of Sex Trafficking for the Community
  • Tattoos – these are used like brands by some traffickers to “mark” their victims so other traffickers know they are taken. The tattoo may be of a crown, a rose, the trafficker’s name, a dollar sign or have some indication that they are in fact for sale. Often these tattoos are placed on the neck, wrist, or collarbone area but not always.
  • A young person that is not dressed appropriately for their age or the weather. This can be a strong indicator of trafficking especially in larger cities. However, do not write a potential situation off if the young person is dressed appropriately, they may have their other clothing in a bag.
  • Evidence of a relationship where the young person is being demeaned or controlled by another individual, this may not always be the trafficker, sometimes it can be another female known as the Bottom.
  • A victim of trafficking may not be able to tell you where they have been recently or where they are now. They may struggle to give you basic information such as address, name, and birth date.
  • A severe lack of eye contact. In public situations victims of traffickign will they often stare at the floor even when spoken too.
  • Bruises, cuts and other signs of physical abuse.
  • Appears malnourished.
  • A young person that appears fearful, anxious, or even hostile.


Indicators of Sex Trafficking for Parents and Caregivers
  • A sudden change in behavior or appearance. While this may not indicate trafficking it often indicates something such as abuse, depression or bullying and should be addressed.
  • Dropping out of sports or other school activities the young person previously enjoyed.
  • Unexplained cash, jewelry, nice clothing, or other expensive gifts.
  • Alienating friends and family.
  • Possession of a fake ID.
  • Uncharacteristic promiscuous behavior or references in-person or on social media to sexual situations.
  • References to modeling jobs, a role in a music video or an older boyfriend.
  • Sudden or frequent missed school days or a drastic drop in grades.
Language to Listen For

There is a lot of language associated with trafficking that is good to know and listen for, here is just a handful of terms to start:

  • The Life or The Game – what victims of trafficking and traffickers refer to what is happening, respectively.
  • Daddy or Boyfriend – A young person referring to an older person that is clearly not their parent by either of these two terms can be a good indicator of the nature of their relationship.
  • John, Trick, Date – these all reference the buyer.
  • Bottom, Bottom Bitch or Bottom Girl – The most trusted girl by the trafficker, often responsible for helping recruit and control the other victims.
  • Trap or Stack – the amount of money she/he needs to make that day.
  • This crime includes a lot royalty and familial sounding language. Words such as king, queen, sister-wives, cousin-in-laws are common ways that those in the life reference each other.


Take yourself back to that convenience store, you are standing in line with a soda in your hand waiting to pay. One of the six people in the store is a young girl, she is wearing a skirt that is a bit too short for the snow falling outside, she appears shaken and she is staring directly at the floor. An older man is standing with her with his hand tightly grasping her elbow, you hear her whisper the words “I’ll be really fast daddy,” as she pulls away and walks quickly to the restroom. He never takes his eyes off her. What do you do?

  • Contact local law enforcement – tell them everything you saw in detail, mention the word trafficking to the dispatcher. If the situation leads you the believe the victims life is in immediate danger call 911, however, if you do not feel there is an immediate threat you can contact the local non-emergency line. When in doubt call 911.
  • Contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline and report what you saw.
    • 888.3737.888
  • DO NOT attempt to speak to the victim! This can put both of you in danger and may make any chance of recovery even more difficult for law enforcement.


You can learn more about human trafficking here.

How to Get Invovled

There are 3 ways to join Guardian Group’s fight aganist domestic sex trafficking:

  1. Volunteer – Join Project 1591 and use your Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) skills for good.
  2. Connect – Expand our reach by connecting our free resources to active law enforcement officers in your area
  3. Give – Become a memeber of Team 1591 and for under $200 a year you can help have lifesaving impacts on the lives of victims of this crime today.