Sex Trafficking: Would you know it if you saw it?

Photo by Engin Akyurt on

40 days-Day 3

I travel across the country with my kids every year to visit our Texas family. We stop at rest stops, truck stops, gas stations and restaurants along the way (hellooooo Cracker Barrel and Chick-fil-a!). When I learned about the very real epidemic of sex trafficking here in the United States I couldn’t help but wonder how many times I had been in the same room with someone who was being forced into the sex trade, but had no idea.

My goal, today, is to make that impossible. Though there is no cookie cutter template for what a trafficking victim looks like, there are signs we can look for. The following information is taken from the website, It Has to Stop, an organization deep in the fight against human trafficking here in Tennessee.

Physical appearance:

  • Has injuries or other signs of abuse and is reluctant to explain them.
  • Appears malnourished.
  • Branded or marked with a tattoo, such as a man’s name, symbol of money, or a barcode.
  • Dressed in a provocative manner or in the same clothes, regardless of weather or circumstance.


  • Has very few personal possessions.
  • Has an unexplained, sudden increase in money, clothing, or possessions like jewelry without explanation.
  • Doesn’t carry identification.
  • Has a number of hotel keys or key cards.
  • Has a prepaid cell phone.


  • Fears authority figures.
  • Claims to be an adult, though their appearance suggests adolescence.
  • Seems to move frequently from place to place.
  • Talks about an older boyfriend or sex with an older man.
  • Has inconsistencies in their story.
  • Claims to be visiting, and can’t state what city they’re in or for how long.
  • Isn’t able to speak for themself.
  • Has sexually explicit profiles on social networking sites.
  • Is not enrolled in school or is consistently absent.
  • Seems to be withdrawn, depressed, or “checked out.”

Lack of Control:

  • Accompanied by someone who seems to control their every move.
  • Seems scripted in the way they speak.
  • Doesn’t have control over their own money.
  • Can’t come and go from place to place on their own.

How many times can you look back and think, “Oh. I remember ‘so and so’ at that gas station…” Me too. I know, for a fact, that I have been in the same room with trafficking victims but had no idea, just didn’t recognize the signs. Now I’m armed with facts, and so are you.

The next questions is, are you willing to step in? To make a phone call to authorities and risk being wrong?

Because what if you are right? The fact is, anyone under the age of 18 who is selling sex is legally a human trafficking victim. Period.

The traffickers want us to doubt ourselves. They bank on us thinking we are over-thinking and just look the other way.

But, my goodness, what an impact an army of informed and willing ordinary people could have if we just keep our eyes open and have the courage to call 1-888-373-7888! (The National Human Trafficking Hotline)

Know the signs. Be a voice. Step in to their story.

Tomorrow we will talk about the signs of trafficking rings and brothels in your neighborhood.

Yes, your neighborhood.


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