How to Spot the Signs of Sex Trafficking

Members of the public have more power than they realize to help spot and stop sex trafficking. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of trafficking victims are not kept in locked rooms or held without access to the outside world. Many wouldn't even identify as victims.Here are some things to look out for:Children and immigrants: While trafficking affects individuals of all nations, ages, races and genders, some demographics are particularly vulnerable. Children and teenagers — particularly young women — tend to fall prey to traffickers, especially if they come from a history of abuse or homelessness. And while many trafficking victims in America are U.S. citizens, immigrants are also targeted by traffickers, who coerce them with threats of deportation.Age difference: If you see a man accompanying someone significantly younger than him and she's dressed in a provocative way, you may be looking at a case of trafficking. According to a study by the Demanding Justice Project, the average age for entry into the commercial sex trade is 14 years old. The average age of a buyer is 40 years old. A significant age discrepancy is often the first sign something is wrong.Dependent and nervous: Traffickers have become so sophisticated in disguising sex trafficking that pimps or enforcers are increasingly younger — even men or women in their early 20s — who look like they could be a boyfriend or friend of the victim. Therefore, observe the victim to detect signs of trafficking. If the person seems anxious, dependent and nervous, avoids eye-contact with anyone, and if the man or companion seems oddly defensive of the person — especially if he or she can't speak the language — then it's worth reaching out to local law enforcement.Schools absences: Teachers can often spot changes in behavior that may indicate that a child is being trafficked, especially if that child is in foster care and may not have a regular, long-term guardian. Still, almost half of identified cases of child trafficking begin with some family member involvement, according to the International Organization for Migration. A child with frequent absences may be involved in trafficking.Expensive clothes: Someone who suddenly has new, expensive possessions, clothing or professionally done fingernails and a hairstyle the child can't afford might be involved with a trafficker. Teenagers may talk about their older "boyfriends" or appear to have been deprived of food or sleep.Odd hotel behavior: If guests pay for their rooms in cash, don't have any luggage, reject housekeeping services or specify that they want a room close to an exit, they may be attempting to conceal trafficking. Additionally, if you see different men coming and going from the same hotel room over the course of a day or an evening, they could be there to purchase sex.Medical problems: Being trafficked not only destroys someone's psychological and emotional health, it also frequently damages their bodies. Overt signs and symptoms that a patient may present are: bruises or contusions, fractures, cigarette burns, infected tattoos, dental and oral hygiene problems, sexually transmitted diseases, vaginal and pelvic pain, disorientation, loss of sense of time and depression or anxiety. Medical professionals must look for signs of physical abuse as well as for signs of rape and botched abortions. Administrative staff can also play a role in identifying trafficking by looking for individuals who lack documentation, have fake identification or whose documents are held by someone else. Studies have shown that 88 percent of trafficking victims see a medical professional while being trafficked.Neglect: On the other side of the coin, signs of physical neglect, such as malnutrition, can point to trafficking as well. Branding. Sex trafficking victims, particularly those in major U.S. cities, are often branded with tattoos. A pimp or female controller will often brand victims with his or her street name, initials or a signature phrase. Other typical sex trafficking tattoos include bows, diamonds, dollar signs, bills, money bags, crowns, king, queen, princess, barcodes on the neck or alpha-numeric codes on the upper arm.If you think you see signs of trafficking — even if you are unsure — call the police, or contact the U.S Institute Against HumanTrafficking or the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. There are resources that can help put victims on the path toward rescue, healing and hope. But the first step is finding the victims.Geoffrey Rogers is co-founder of the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking, a nonprofit, faith-based organization committed to ending human trafficking in America, and a former vice president at IBM. He wrote this column for the Dallas Morning News.   Continue reading...

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