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How You Can Spot, Report, and Prevent Human Trafficking

Education is key to combating trafficking. Join the community of thousands of people who are committed to spotting, reporting, and preventing trafficking by taking the OnWatch™ training today.

In the past, human sex trafficking has been primarily recognized as an overseas issue or something that only happens in impoverished countries. But with trafficking reported in all 50 U.S. states, this issue is a lot closer to home than you might realize.U.S Department of State. (2022). 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report. United States Department of State.Copy 

To fully understand the issue of trafficking, you first need a definition. Sex trafficking is the commercial sexual exploitation of an individual through force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.

Related: How Porn Can Fuel Sex Trafficking

Trafficking is a difficult topic to approach, and with so much misinformation out there, it can be difficult to know what’s fact and what’s fiction. That’s where OnWatch™ comes in. OnWatch™ is a free, online, survivor-led training that helps you spot, report, and prevent sex trafficking in the United States. It’s free at IAmOnWatch.org and only takes an hour to complete.

Myth: Only women and girls are trafficked.
Fact: Trafficking affects every gender, race, and social class.

Myth: All victims of trafficking are kidnapped by a stranger.
Fact: Victims usually know the person who’s trafficking them.

OnWatch™ is led by two nonprofits, the Malouf Foundation™ and Safe House Project, but the training itself was written by survivors. Many of them even share their own lived experiences. Survivors are the true subject-matter experts, and their voices are essential in this fight. Through their stories, you get an accurate picture of trafficking and how you can help.

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The signs of trafficking

An important and frequently asked question is, “What are the signs of trafficking?” Unfortunately, there’s not a single answer. Every survivor’s story is different, and the signs vary. That’s why OnWatch™ shares multiple survivor perspectives. As you take the training and listen to survivors, you will learn what red flags to watch for in different situations. Some signs covered in OnWatch™ include:

  1. Drastic changes in mood or behavior
  2. Disengagement from school, activities, or personal relationships
  3. Inappropriately dressed for the person’s age or for the weather
  4. Signs of a substance abuse disorder
  5. Signs of self-harm or thoughts of suicide
  6. Bruises, cuts, or other physical injuries
  7. Heavy online activity and secretive behavior
  8. Controlling parent, guardian, or partner
  9. Excessive time with an older “boyfriend”
  10. Gifts from an older “boyfriend” (jewelry, clothes, cell phone, etc.)

The signs listed above, separately or together, may not always mean that someone is being trafficked, but pay attention to them and trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, make a report to the National Human Trafficking Hotline by calling 1-888-373-7888.

Related: 15 Facts About Human Sex Trafficking

Why don’t sex trafficking victims leave?

You may wonder why victims don’t just “up and leave” their trafficker. This topic is covered in Module 7 of the OnWatch™ training, but one reason is that victims may feel trapped and unable to ask for help. Traffickers are master manipulators and will threaten, blackmail, and physically harm their victims (and sometimes their families) to keep them from leaving.

Although they desperately want to escape, some victims might also fear that no one will believe them or they won’t have a safe place to go. Many victims don’t even have the words to describe what is happening to them. The term “sex trafficking” doesn’t always come to mind. When you consider all these factors, it’s very difficult for someone to leave. That’s why we need to be OnWatch™.

Related: What Causes Human Sex Trafficking? (VIDEO)

Julie Whitehead, a survivor who tells her story in the OnWatch™ training, shares, “I was so mentally chained to my trafficker that I couldn’t ask for help. It took someone from the outside to notice something wasn’t right with my situation. I ultimately escaped trafficking because a bystander followed his intuition, and I’m grateful he took action.”

How do I report sex trafficking?

If you see something suspicious, report a tip to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text “info” to 233733. If someone needs help immediately, call local law enforcement. You should never engage with a potential trafficker or violent situation. This could put you and the person being trafficked in danger.

Related: Victim Resources

The bottom line: Always make a report, even if you’re not completely sure of the situation. You will never be at fault for reporting suspicious activity, and the best-case scenario is that you’re wrong and what you saw wasn’t trafficking.

Be OnWatch™

Education is key to combating trafficking, so if you’re wondering how you can make a difference right now, start with the OnWatch™ training. Join the community of thousands of people who are committed to spotting, reporting, and preventing trafficking. Be part of the movement to support survivors and create safer communities. Take the OnWatch™ training today!

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