recognizing the signs of sexual Exploitation*

Too often sex traffickers are able to keep their victims in the web of exploitation because sex trafficking can be hard to identify. Traffickers often prey on people who hope for a better life, lack employment opportunities, have an unstable home life, or have a history of sexual abuse.

Victims of sex trafficking are often vulnerable because of homelessness, poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental or physical disability, or lack of legal immigration status. These are characteristics that are present across age, socio-economic status, nationality, and level of education.These are all contributing factors when identifying those who may be most vulnerable to domestic sex trafficking. It's easy to think human trafficking is limited to certain segments of society; however, it's vital to remember that vulnerability to being trafficked knows no boundaries. Victims most often are unaware of their rights, or may have been intentionally misinformed about their rights so they don't know they can receive help. They often fear for their safety or the safety of someone known to them, as some traffickers will threaten to harm the victim, their friends, or family members if they report their situation to, or cooperate with, law enforcement.

The question remains for us: How do we recognize a victim of human trafficking?



Sex trafficking includes a vast web of traffickers and victims. In order to be able to understand this growing tragedy, and to help the victims who are caught up in this crime, we need to understand how trafficking works. It is important to understand that there are patterns and signs that can help identify the perpetrators and help the victims receive help.

Identifying Pimps/ Traffickers:

The perpetrators of this crime (traffickers, johns or consumers, pimps) don’t fit a single stereotype. They are represented in every social, ethnic, and racial group. Some perpetrators are involved with local gangs, others are members of larger nationwide gangs, and criminal organizations, and some have no affiliation with any one group.

Traffickers can also be women – in fact, many women run established rings around the country. The recruiter could be a young man who is posing as a doting boyfriend, or girl who appears to be friendly.

Traffickers use force, drugs, emotional tactics, and financial methods to control their victims. Often, recruiters find ways to form strong bonds with girls. For instance, they may promise marriage or a lifestyle the girls have not had in their families of origin. They claim they ‘love’ and ‘need’ the victim, and that any sex acts are for their future together.

In cases where the victims have few or no positive male role models in their lives, the traffickers take advantage of this and, in many cases, demand that the victims refer to them as ‘daddy’, further ensnaring them in their web of deceit.

Sometimes, the traffickers use violence, such as gang rape and other forms of abuse, to force victims to work for them and remain under their control. The traffickers can use their ability to supply them with drugs and alcohol as a means of control.

Traffickers often take their victim’s identification papers, including birth certificates, passports, and driver's licenses. In these cases, even if victims do leave they have no ability to support themselves and will often return to the trafficker.

*The content of this is taken from our Introductory Training Module 1. To learn more, visit this link to sign up and download to learn more.

*Hope Restored Canada offers training session on "Recognizing the Signs" for various sectors of society- Schools, social service agencies, parent groups and more. To inquire about this, contact or click on this link to invite a speaker.