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Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor of commercial sex act. The coercion can be subtle or overt, physical or psychological. Human trafficking utilizes exploitation and does not have to involve the movement of a person. 


Human trafficking is not just an international occurrence. Human trafficking can occur anywhere, even on a college campus.

Types of Human Trafficking

Sex Trafficking

Victims of sex trafficking are manipulated or forced to engage in sex acts for someone else’s commercial gain. Sex trafficking is not prostitution.


Forced Labor

Victims of forced labor are compelled to work for little or no pay, often manufacturing or harvesting the products we use and consume every day (The A21 Campaign, 2021).  


Domestic Servitude

Victims of domestic servitude are forced to work in isolation and are hidden in plain sign as nannies, housekeepers, or other domestic help. 


Risk Factors

Human trafficking can happen to anyone, but some risk factors make people more vulnerable than others. Traffickers identify and leverage vulnerabilities to create dependency. Significant risk factors include: 

  • Recent migration/relocation 
  • Substance use 
  • Mental health concerns 
  • Involvement with the children welfare system 
  • Runaway or homeless youth.

College Student Risk Factors

Certain risk factors are especially common among college students. These include:


College students that have recently relocated can be at higher risk because they are new to the area.


Dating Apps

Tinder and Bumble are used to meet new people but can be dangerous as traffickers can be anyone. Human traffickers can disguise themselves as someone they are not. 


Large social events

Concert venues, bars, music festivals and sporting events are places that traffickers use. Dark, crowded places supply the demand for traffickers. The influx of tourists, and vulnerable college students are key victims.


Protecting Yourself

Ensure that you aren’t putting too much trust in the people you meet online. Often, human trafficking begins with victims who are voluntary at first. For example, a boyfriend and girlfriend relationship.


When going out, make sure you are with people you know and trust. Don’t go off with people you don’t know and make sure you are always with someone, especially in an unfamiliar place (Beech, 2021).


Human trafficking is not always violent and rarely involves kidnapping. Typically, a perpetrator may use psychological means of force or fraud and coercion (which may  include deception, defrauding, manipulation, and threats) to persuade victims into providing commercial sex or exploitative labor.  


Recognizing The Signs

Those who are being trafficked might have their behavior controlled my someone else. This might look like:

  • Not being able to speak on their own behalf.
  • Inconsistent or scripted history.
  • Unable to give a physical address.
  • Acting solely under instruction from another person.
  • Transported to and from work.
  • Living and working at the same place.
  • Fearful, anxious, depressed, overly submissive, and may avoid eye contact.
  • Limited access to funds or funds held by someone else.
  • Multiple pregnancies or abortions.
  • Multiple sexually transmitted infections.
  • Branding tattoos, such as “property of (name)”; money symbols/symbols of hierarchy.

They show signs of exploitative working conditions. These could include:

  • Being unable to keep earnings.
  • Having identification, legal, or travel documents taken away by employer.
  • Owes a debt they are working to pay off.
  • Works excessively long hours without breaks.
  • Unable to leave their work environment at will.
  • Limited or no access to medical care.
  • Has been threatened with harm or subjected to physical abuse.
  • Work conditions or duties are different than what was agreed upon originally.

They are unable to understand language and have lack of official identification.
For example:

  • Not being able to speak or read language of country.
  • Recently arrived in country and does not have possession of their passport, identification, or legal documents.

They might show signs of abuse and trauma like:

  • Has bruises, scars, and other signs of physical abuse and torture.
  • Has been denied food, water, sleep, and/or medical care.
  • Poor personal hygiene or cleanliness of clothing (The A21 Campaign,

Human trafficking includes labor and sex trafficking, but the two are not the same. Labor trafficking includes situations where men, women, and children are forced to work due to debt, immigration status, threats and violence. Sex trafficking includes when individuals are made to perform commercial sex using force, fraud or coercion.


Beware of potential online sex trafficking recruitment. Social media and online dating are great ways to meet and connect with new people. Not everyone is out to harm you, but you should be aware of some warning signs. Keep your social media settings private. Here are things to consider:

  • Instant love. Traffickers lure their victims into becoming emotionally attached.
    Take the time to get to know someone. Share limited personal details through the
  • Willingness to pay. Traffickers quickly establish themselves as trustworthy
    confidants. Under the guise of love, the trafficker will offer to pay for a potential
    victim to travel to a weekend getaway of their place. If you decide to meet, make
    sure it’s somewhere you feel safe and comfortable.
  • Job promises. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of offers
    for jobs in fields that are typically hard to break into, such as modeling and acting.
    Traffickers lure victims into isolation away from their friends and family. Be
    wary of job offers in remote locations, faraway states, and foreign cities (Volodko
    et al., 2019).

Look out for potential sex trafficking recruitment in public places. Most victims are lured and manipulated through promises of false love, attention, and help. Here are some tips to stay safe:

  • Keep an eye on your drink. Traffickers look for opportunities to impair your
    judgment. This can take the form of buying you drinks that may be laced with
    drugs or adding drugs to your drink while you are not paying attention. During a
    drugged state, photos or videos may be taken of you that are then used
    to force you to engage in commercial sec acts.
  • Be wary of instant love. Traffickers who shower potential victims with attention,
    affection, and gifts, on their first meeting are known as “Romeo gifts”. Probing
    questions to find out if you are alone, have a loving family, and would be willing
    to hook up. These are common tactics traffickers use to manipulate potential
    victims by offering false love to those that appear to be isolated or do not have
    close family or friend networks.
  • Have a safety plan. Follow your instincts. Make sure you have a safe way to get
    home if you need to leave. If you don’t feel safe, go to the bar, and ask the
    bartender to call a cab for you to get home (Recognizing human trafficking,

What can I do?

If you believe someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, you are encouraged to report it.

  • Call 911 if you are someone you know is in immediate danger,
  • Call (1-888-373-7888) or text (233733) The National Human Trafficking Hotline. All reports to the hotline are confidential and can remain anonymous (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2012).
  • Visit the National Human Trafficking Hotline website.
  • Explore campus resources.

Additional Resources

Safe Relationship Guide
Safe Employment Guide

Sex Trafficking on College Campuses

College students: How human trafficking can effect you

Student Tool Kit for a Safe Campus 

Services Available to Victims of Human Trafficking 

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