Human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing global crimes according to the United Nations. No country is immune to this modern-day slavery. According to one estimate, some 15,000 people are trafficked each year in the U.S. for either forced labor or sexual exploitation. Though governments across the world have declared slavery illegal, more than 20 million people worldwide are victims of forced labor. Human trafficking is the second largest source of illegal income, second only to drug trafficking. This inhumane business cuts across gender, age and ethnicity.
A number of factors—poverty, child abuse, adverse social conditions, gender inequality—make people susceptible to trafficking. Children and youth are among the most vulnerable. Long and short-term physical and mental torture endured by victims leads to many health consequences. Physical health consequences can include traumatic brain injuries and other physical injuries, gastrointestinal problems, infectious diseases, poor nutrition, and reproductive health problems. Psychological consequences can include shame, grief, fear, distrust, self-blame and self-hatred, drug and alcohol addiction, suicide, suicidal thoughts, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Though this business operates in our communities, we don’t see these victims in day-to-day life as they are often kept behind locked doors. However, there are things we can do to fight human trafficking—educate ourselves, spread the word, become involved with groups fighting human trafficking and, take a closer look in our communities. With little knowledge about the human trafficking indicators and few follow-up questions, one can identify incidences of victimization and report them to the relevant authorities. Below is a list of indicators and questions from the U.S. Department of State which may help spot a victim.
Human Trafficking Indicators
Living with employer
• Poor living conditions
• Multiple people in cramped space
• Inability to speak to individual alone
• Answers appear to be scripted and rehearsed
• Employer is holding identity documents
• Signs of physical abuse
• Submissive or fearful
• Unpaid or paid very little
• Under 18 and in prostitution
Questions to Ask
Assuming you have the opportunity to speak with a potential victim privately and without jeopardizing the victim’s safety because the trafficker is watching, here are some sample questions to ask to follow up on concerns:
• 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?
• Are you in debt to your employer?
• Do you have your passport/identification? Who has it?
For more information, visit Stop the Traffik, a global movement of activists working to stop human trafficking.
Sejal Petal, Sr. Program Coordinator, and
Ranna Parekh, M.D., M.P.H., Director
APA Division of Diversity and Health Equity
This post is part of an ongoing series spotlighting diversity from APA’s Division of Diversity and Health Equity.