How do you know if you or your friend is being trafficked?

Sex trafficking is the use of force, fraud, or coercion to make someone provide sex for money or things. [Adapated from: Polaris: Staying Safe – Tips for LGBTQ Youth] If you are under 18, you are automatically considered a victim of sex trafficking if you are trading sex for food, drugs, a place to stay or cash, even if you agree to what is happening.

If you think you or someone you know is experiencing human trafficking, reach out for support. You can call a local sexual assault centre

We know you are trying your hardest to stay safe and live your life, and sometimes that means making sacrifices. It can be hard to know when sacrifices and work cross the line to exploitation and abuse. It’s not easy to tell if an employer or someone you love or trust is actually taking advantage of you. Here are some signs to look out for. It’s important to note that each trafficking situation is unique, and there are many more indicators than the ones listed here.

Signs you may be trafficked

  • Your employer doesn’t pay you in cash or they keep your money;
  • Doesn’t pay you at all
  • Someone doesn’t let you go where you please
  • Someone makes you feel extreme emotions in order to control you: sometimes they tear you down, calling you names like “trash,” while other times they build you up by calling you names like “queen”
  • Someone can access and control your phone, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or email
  • Your employer promised you one type of job, but instead makes you do something different
  • A person that you trust or the person that you love makes you have sex with other people
  • You don’t get to choose who you can be friends with

Steer clear of people who might try to exploit you

  • Don’t share your passwords (social media, bank PIN numbers, email, etc.) and avoid posting your location online
  • Keep an eye on your ID documents; if someone asks to hold them for you, say no Identify friends, community members, and family that you trust
  • Remember that you deserve to be safe
  • Remind yourself that your worth is not determined by another person
  • Be careful on social media – traffickers often use social media as recruiting grounds
  • Traffickers will target youth in group homes and schools – tell someone you trust if you notice someone hanging around
  • Come up with a safety plan – think about who you would call, where you would go, and how you would get there if you found yourself in a situation that felt unsafe
  • Trust your gut – if it feels too good to be true – it is.

How do you know if your friend is being trafficked?

Sometimes people who are being trafficked don’t believe that they are being victimized. They may be too close to the situation to realize that they are being taken advantage of, they may be in love with their trafficker, or they may not see any other options. As a friend or fellow community member, you are in a unique position to recognize when someone you know is in trouble. This is especially important for those people who are not living at home or who may not have enough support from their families.

  • Someone has isolated your friend from you and other loving and supportive people
  • Someone makes decisions for your friend about when your friend is free, where they can go, or who they can hang out with
  • Your friend left town suddenly or they disappear from time to time with little or no explanation
  • Your friend is highly secretive about a new relationship or their whereabouts
  • Your friend has received expensive new gifts
  • You never see your friend anymore or you can never get time alone with them
  • Your friend seems frightened or nervous
  • Your friend seems malnourished or ill and isn’t allowed to get the treatment they need

If you think you or a friend is being exploited – reach out to someone you trust and is supportive. Contact a sexual assault centre. They can help you figure out what to do next and they will protect your privacy.

Further Reading & Resources