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Common Signs of Exploitation and Trafficking

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

Studies by the Polaris Project suggest there are common signs of human trafficking. They include, but are not limited to:

Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior

§ Is fearful, depressed, submissive, tense, nervous, and/or paranoid

§ Exhibits unusually anxious behavior toward law enforcement or immigration officials

§ Shows signs of substance use or addiction

Poor Physical Health

§ Shows signs of poor hygiene, malnourishment, and/or fatigue

§ Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture

Lack of Control

§ Has few or no personal possessions

§ Is frequently monitored or exhibits paranoia about being monitored

§ Is not in control of own money or bank account

§ Is not in control of own identification documents (ID or passport)

§ Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)


§ Claims of just visiting or inability to clarify where they are staying

§ Lack of knowledge of whereabouts or do not know the city

§ Appear to have lost sense of time

§ Shares scripted, confusing, or inconsistent stories

§ Protects the person who may be hurting them or minimizes abuse

This list is not exhaustive and represents only a selection of possible indicators. Each individual indicator should be taken in context, not be considered in isolation, nor should be taken as proof that human trafficking is occurring. Of course, cultural differences should also be considered.

Act with caution, but don’t ignore the signs.

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