Human Trafficking: keep a look out for these signs

Depiction of slavery, human trafficking

Depiction of slavery, human trafficking

Published Dec 31, 2020


The human trafficking crisis is a global issue that has proven difficult to combat but with many cases happening in plain sight, knowing how to identify and help a victim of modern slavery could save many lives.

According to the International Labour Organisation, there are between 20 to 40 million victims of modern slavery but analysing the full scope of the R2.3 trillion illicit human trafficking industry becomes difficult with so many cases often undetected.

Modern slavery may take many forms, most common being forced labour and sexual labour, but a concerning part is just how many victims are exposed to the public yet still go unnoticed.

There are ways to identify victims of human trafficking and providing much needed support, and although both tasks may seem challenging but being aware of the warning signs may save countless lives.

Hope For Justice, a global non-profit organisation that aims to end human trafficking and modern slavery, has broken down all the indicators into 6 categories:

General Indicators

Trafficking victims are often lured into another country by false promises and so may not easily trust others.

They may:

– Be fearful of police/authorities.

– Be fearful of the trafficker, believing their lives or family members’ lives are at risk if they escape.

– Exhibit signs of physical and psychological trauma e.g. anxiety, lack of memory of recent events, bruising, untreated conditions.

– Be fearful of telling others about their situation.

– Be unaware they have been trafficked and believe they are simply in a bad job.

– Have limited freedom of movement.

– Be unpaid or paid very little.

– Have limited access to medical care.

– Seem to be in debt to someone.

– Have no passport or mention that someone else is holding their passport.

– Be regularly moved to avoid detection.

– Believe they are being controlled by use of witchcraft.

Sexual Exploitation

Be aware: ordinary residential housing/hotels are being used more and more for brothels. People forced into sexual exploitation may:

– Be moved between brothels, sometimes from city to city.

– Sleeping on work premises.

– Display a limited amount of clothing, of which a large proportion is sexual.

– Display substance misuse.

– Be forced, intimidated or coerced into providing sexual services.

– Be subjected to abduction, assault or rape.

– Be unable to travel freely e.g. picked up and dropped off at work location by another person.

– Have money for their services provided collected by another person.

Forced Labour

Where all the work is done under the menace of a penalty or the person has not offered himself voluntarily and is now unable to leave. They may experience:

– Threat or actual physical harm.

– Restriction of movement or confinement.

– Debt bondage i.e. working to pay off a debt or loan, often the victim is paid very little or nothing at all for their services because of deductions.

– Withholding of pay or excessive reductions.

– Withholding of documents e.g. passport/security card.

– Threat of revealing to authorities an irregular immigration status.

– Their employer is unable to produce documents required.

– Poor or non-existent health and safety standards.

– Requirement to pay for tools and food.

– Imposed place of accommodation (and deductions made for it).

– Pay that is less than minimum wage.

– Dependence on employer for services.

– No access to labor contract.

– Excessive work hours/few breaks.

Child Abuse

“An abuse of a child’s vulnerability by a person’s position of power or trust, exploiting that position to obtain sexual services in exchange for some form of favour such as alcohol, drugs, attention or gifts” – Engage Team, Blackburn.

You may notice a child that is:

– Often going missing/truanting.

– Secretive

– Has unexplained money/presents.

– Experimenting with drugs/alcohol.

– Associating with/being groomed by older people (not in normal networks).

– In relationships with significantly older people.

– Taking part in social activities with no plausible explanation.

– Seen entering or leaving vehicles with unknown adults.

– Showing evidence of physical/sexual assault (including STD’s).

– Showing signs of low self image/self harm/eating disorder.

Criminal Activities

The person is recruited and forced/deceived into conducting some form of criminal activity such as pick pocketing, begging, cannabis cultivation and benefit fraud.

Same indicators as for forced labour but for cannabis cultivation you may also notice:

– Windows of property are permanently covered from the inside.

– Visits to property are at unusual times.

– Property may be residential.

– Unusual noises coming from the property eg machinery.

– Pungent smells coming from the property.

Domestic Servitude

A particularly serious form of denial of freedom; this includes the obligation to provide certain services and the obligation to live on another person property without the possibility of changing those circumstances.

They may:

– Be living and working for a family in a private home.

– Not be eating with the rest of the family.

– Have no bedroom or proper sleeping place.

– Have no private space.

– Be forced to work excessive hours; “on call” 24 hours a day.

– Never leave the house without the ‘employer’.

– Be malnourished

– Be reported as missing or accused of crime by their ‘employer’ if they try to escape.

Victims of human trafficking could be found anywhere such as the workplace, restaurants, the streets or any public space but if an opportunity for a private converstion does arise with a suspected victim it should be done without jeopardising their safety with the trafficker close by.

Administration for Children and Families human trafficking campaign, called Rescue and Restore, provides a list of screening questions to help identify possible victims. Here is a list of questions you could ask a suspected victim:

How did you get your job?

Can you leave your job if you want to?

Can you come and go as you please?

Have you been hurt or threatened if you tried to leave?

Has your family been threatened?

Do you live with your employer?

Where do you sleep and eat?

Do you owe your employer money?

Are you in possession of your own legal (ID)? If not, why?

Click here for the full list of screening questions.

If you believe you have come in contact with a victim of human trafficking, in need of information or help, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 0800 222 777.

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