Detecting Child Trafficking

While it’s important for all children to learn at an appropriate age, some children are at higher risk for child trafficking. What does child trafficking look like? There are many myths surrounding trafficking. If you are a professional who works with youth, or a parent, it’s important to know what you should be looking for in order to seek assistance.

High Risk Youth

High risk doesn’t necessarily mean specific warning signs of trafficking, but provides us with insight on which communities are best to target for education and assistance. The following demographics in children tend to be at higher risk for child trafficking:

  • Low socioeconomic status
  • History of abuse and/or neglect
  • Exposure to violence
  • History of alcohol or substance abuse
  • Social media risk taking
  • Mental health diagnosis
  • Risky behavior
  • Displaced from home
  • Low self-esteem or self-worth
  • Lack of resources and natural supports

Red Flags of Child Trafficking

These warning signs indicate that something may not be right. One of these alone doesn’t necessarily indicate trafficking, but can indicate other issues such as abuse. If some of these ring true for a child with whom you interact, you should reach out to us immediately.

  • Is under 18 years old and performs commercial sex acts
  • Is excessively monitored by an adult who is not a parent or guardian, such as an older partner or “sponsor” who claims to provide for their upbringing and needs, or who insists on speaking for them or being present at all times
  • Detached or (suddenly) isolated from majority of family members and friends
  • Is unable to give answers about their schedules or living and work locations/conditions; appears to possibly work and live in the same building or location
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story; contradictory personal information (age, place of birth, family life)
  • Has excessive security measures at his/her home or work (i.e., security cameras, boarded or covered windows); constant traffic of men at his/her home or work location
  • Noticeable change in dress, jewelry, hair, or nails without explainable source of income
  • Shows signs of physical or sexual abuse (bruises, cuts, burns, submissiveness, jumpy, malnourishment); appears fearful, anxious, depressed, overly submissive, and avoids eye contact
  • Suffers from substance abuse problems (alcohol and/or drugs), an array of other psychological disorders, sexually transmitted diseases, or chronic illnesses
  • Carries multiple hotel key cards, lots of money, sharp objects (weapons)
  • Sudden presence of an older boyfriend
  • Tattoo with a name that is not their own; or that he/she is reluctant to explain

Common Environments for Child Trafficking

  • Strip clubs, exotic dancing, pornography
  • Begging
  • Online ads, chat services, and porn sites
  • Escort or dating services
  • Domestic labor (housecleaning, childcare, elderly care)
  • Restaurants or bars
  • The streets
  • Factories, sweatshops, or agricultural work
  • Businesses such as hotel/motels, massage parlors, nail salons


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