Spot the signs

Recognising the key indicators of human trafficking in your community

The first step to stop the traffik is to spot it. Understanding the signs to look out for could help the most vulnerable people within your community.

Significant Signs

There are a number of signs that are common across all types of exploitation. Including, if a person:

  • acts as if instructed by another, as though they are forced or coerced to carry out specific activities
  • demonstrates signs of physical or psychological abuse, such as lacking self esteem, seeming anxious, bruising or untreated medical conditions
  • seems to be bonded by debt or has money deducted from their salary
  • has little or no contact with family or loved ones
  • is distrustful of authorities
  • has threats made against themselves or family members
  • is not in possession of their own legal documents

Specific Signs

Many of the main types of exploitation have significant signs that are specific to them. These include:

Significant signs for individuals potentially selling sex:

  • Is the person closely guarded?
  • Does the person have any signs of physical abuse, such as cigarette burns or tattoos indicating ownership?
  • Is the person allowed to keep the money they make? A trafficked sex worker will have restricted or no access to earnings
  • Is there any evidence that the person has been forced, intimidated or coerced into providing sexual services?
  • Does the person have an English vocabulary of only sexualised words?
  • Are there any signs the person is experiencing emotional trauma as a result of the work they are doing?

Significant signs at a location:

  • Do the letterbox or any doors of the property appear to have been sealed from inside?
  • Do the people potentially selling sex also sleep on the premises? Brothels are not normally used as accommodation for sex workers
  • Are the people potentially selling sex being moved between suspected brothels?
  • Do workers show signs of psychological or physical abuse? Do they appear frightened, withdrawn or confused?
  • Do workers have restricted movement on leaving or entering the premises? Are they always accompanied?
  • Are workers forced to stay in accommodation provided by the employer? Is the accommodation overcrowded?
  • Are workers forced to give incorrect information or claim to not know personal details?
  • Is the employer or somebody other than the worker holding the employee’s passport and legal documents?
  • Do workers lack the necessary protective equipment or suitable clothing? Have they received basic training?
  • Is there a group of workers of a similar nationality/age/gender who have a representative by whom they appear ‘coached’?
  • Does the person seem held in the employer’s home and forced to provide household support, such as care for children, cleaning and cooking?
  • Does the person appear to be working in excess of normal hours?
  • Does the person ever leave the accommodation unaccompanied?
  • Is there any indication the person has been subject to abuse, insults, threats or violence?
  • Does the person interact much with the family? Are they forced to eat alone?
  • Has the person given their consent, or are they able to give their consent, to marry?
  • Has the person become withdrawn? Do they spend less time with loved ones?
  • Are there any signs of physical or psychological abuse?
  • Does the person seem scared of their partner or another member of the family?

Significant signs of individuals trafficked into forced street crime, such as forced begging, drugs trade and pickpocketing:

  • Is a large group of adult or child beggars moved daily to different locations but return to the same location every night?
  • Is a large group of children guarded by an adult?

Significant signs at a property of cannabis cultivation:

  • Are there metal grills over the windows, or are they permanently covered on the inside?
  • Are there visits to the property late at night or early in the morning and are they irregular?
  • Is there a pungent smell coming from the property?
  • Has electricity been tacked on from neighbouring properties or directly from power lines?

Further information for professionals

For frontline professionals and law enforcement, our online resource can be helpful to understand more detailed signs of human trafficking within communities.

Spot the signs

Spotted the signs?

If you recognise any of these signs, it is essential that you share what you’ve seen with the relevant authorities.

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