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Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking

This article provides general information about human trafficking.

Here, you will learn general information about trafficking, such as definitions, safety concerns, how to recognize trafficking, how to get help, and how to report suspected trafficking. 

This article was compiled from material written by Polaris and Texas Health and Human Services. It has been lightly edited for style.  

Revised by on December 9, 2022.  

How is human trafficking defined?

U.S. law defines human trafficking as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person into commercial sex acts or labor against their will.  

What is sex trafficking?

Sex trafficking occurs when individuals are made to perform commercial sex through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Any child under 18 who is involved in commercial sex is legally a victim of trafficking, regardless of whether there is a third party involved. 

Someone may be experiencing sex trafficking if they: 

  • Want to stop participating in commercial sex but feel scared or unable to leave the situation. 

  • Disclose that they were reluctant to engage in commercial sex but that someone pressured them into it. 

  • Live where they work or are transported by guards between home and workplace. 

  • Are children who live with or are dependent on a family member with a substance use problem or who is abusive. 

  • Have a “pimp” or “manager” in the commercial sex industry. 

  • Work in an industry where it may be common to be pressured into performing sex acts for money, such as a strip club, illicit cantina, go-go bar, or illicit massage business. 

  • Have a controlling parent, guardian, romantic partner, or “sponsor” who will not allow them to meet or speak with anyone alone or who monitors their movements, spending, or communications. 

What is labor trafficking?

Labor trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. 

Labor trafficking includes situations where men, women, and children are forced to work because of debt, immigration status, threats and violence. Keeping victims isolated — physically or emotionally — is a key method of control in most labor trafficking situations. But that does not mean you never cross paths with someone who is experiencing trafficking.  

Someone may be experiencing labor trafficking or exploitation if they: 

  • Feel pressured by their employer to stay in a job or situation they want to leave 

  • Owe money to an employer or recruiter or are not being paid what they were promised or are owed 

  • Do not have control of their passport or other identity documents 

  • Are living and working in isolated conditions, largely cut off from interaction with others or support systems 

  • Appear to be monitored by another person when talking or interacting with others 

  • Are being threatened by their boss with deportation or other harm 

  • Are working in dangerous conditions without proper safety gear, training, adequate breaks, or other protections 

  • Are living in dangerous, overcrowded, or inhumane conditions provided by an employer 


Who are the victims of trafficking?

Anyone can experience trafficking in any community, just as anyone can be the victim of any kind of crime.  

While it can happen to anyone, evidence suggests that people of color and LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience trafficking than other demographic groups.  

Generational trauma, historic oppression, discrimination, and other societal factors and inequities create community-wide vulnerabilities. Traffickers recognize and take advantage of people who are vulnerable. 

People may be vulnerable to trafficking if they: 

  • Have an unstable living situation 

  • Have previously experienced other forms of violence such as sexual abuse or domestic violence 

  • Have run away or are involved in the juvenile justice or child welfare system 

  • Are undocumented immigrants 

  • Are facing poverty or economic need 

  • Have a caregiver or family member who has a substance use issue 

  • Are addicted to drugs or alcohol 

Who are the traffickers?

Traffickers may be family members, romantic partners, acquaintances, or strangers. 

How do traffickers control victims?

Traffickers employ a variety of control tactics. The most common include physical and emotional abuse and threats, isolation from friends and family, and economic abuse. They make promises aimed at addressing the needs of their target in order to impose control. As a result, victims become trapped and may fear leaving for myriad reasons, including psychological trauma, shame, emotional attachment, or physical threats to themselves or their family. 

What are examples of situations that might raise concerns about trafficking?

The following examples might raise concerns that a person is experiencing trafficking: 

  • A would-be employer refuses to give workers a signed contract or asks them to sign a contract in a language they can’t read. 

  • A would-be employer collects fees from a potential worker for the “opportunity” to work in a particular job. 

  • A friend, family member, co-worker, or student is newly showered with gifts or money or otherwise becomes involved in an overwhelming, fast-moving, and asymmetric (e.g., large difference in age or financial status) romantic relationship. 

  • A friend, family member, or student is a frequent runaway and may be staying with someone who is not their parent or guardian. 

  • A family member, friend, co-worker, or student is developing a relationship that seems too close with someone they know solely on social media. 

  • A family member, friend, or student lives with a parent or guardian and shows signs of abuse. 

  • A family member, friend, or co-worker is offered a job opportunity that seems too good to be true. 

  • A family member, friend, or co-worker is recruited for an opportunity that requires them to move far away, but their recruiter or prospective employer avoids answering their questions or is reluctant to provide detailed information about the job. 

What are the safety concerns of victims of labor and sex trafficking?

Victims of both labor and sex trafficking have multiple safety concerns that should be addressed in the context of developing a safety plan:  

  • Isolation, abandonment;  

  • Movement, disorientation, unfamiliarity with current location;  

  • Lack of food, medicine, clothing, or safe shelter; 

  • Increased vulnerability to exploitation, abuse, or other crimes; 

  • Confiscation of money and/or identity documents; 

  • Physical harm or violence to the victim(s) or others; 

  • Abduction, kidnapping, confinement, restraint.  

How can I get help if I am experiencing sex or labor trafficking?

If you are in immediate danger, call 911. 

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Support is provided in more than 200 languages. Callers can dial 711 to access the Hotline using TTY. Calls are confidential. 

You can also email

How do I report a potential human trafficking situation?

To report a potential human trafficking situation, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or submit a tip online

How do I identify human trafficking in my practice as a health care provider?

Many trafficked persons interact with the health care system while being trafficked. Health care providers often do not recognize the signs of trafficking or are unsure of how to help. Trafficked persons often do not disclose their situation. 

The following lists indicators, or red flags, to look for when treating your patients: 


Physical Health 

  • Frequent treatment of sexually transmitted infections or injuries 

  • Multiple unwanted pregnancies 

  • Fractures or burns 

  • Bruising 

  • Gastrointestinal problems 

  • Skin or respiratory problems caused by exposure to agricultural or other chemicals 

  • Communicable and non-communicable diseases 

  • Oral health issues, including broken teeth 

  • Chronic pain 

  • Signs of concussions, traumatic brain injuries or unexplained memory loss 

  • Malnutrition 


Behavioral Health 

  • Unwilling to answer questions about their health 

  • Unable to concentrate or provide basic information including age, address or time 

  • Gives confusing or contradicting information 

  • Abuses substances 

  • Has depression or anxiety 

  • Appears nervous or avoids eye contact 

  • Has post-traumatic stress disorder 


Other Indicators of Trafficking 

  • Another person appears to be in control and does not let them answer questions 

  • Reports a high number of sexual encounters 

  • Does not have possession of their own identification documents 

  • Lives in an overcrowded area or at their workplace 

  • Has tattoos or branding of ownership 

  • Wears inappropriate clothing for the weather or venue 

Learn more about required training for health care practitioners on the Health Care Practitioner Human Trafficking Training page on the Texas Health and Human Services (HHS) website

For a list of screening tools, visit the Texas Human Trafficking Resource Center page on the HHS website

Where can I learn about immigration relief available to victims of trafficking?

T nonimmigrant status (T visa) is available to noncitizens who are or have been victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons and assist law enforcement in the detection, investigation, or prosecution of acts of trafficking.  

To learn more, visit the Victims of Human Trafficking: T Nonimmigrant Status page on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website

Also visit the T Visas and Trafficking: Answers to Common Questions page on 

More information

For a list of state and national resources, visit the Texas Human Trafficking Resource Center page on the HHS website

The Office of the Attorney General of Texas created the film “Be the One” about preventing, recognizing and reporting human trafficking. In the film, survivors share their experiences and the impacts of human trafficking. Note: The film contains stories that some viewers may find triggering or upsetting. Viewer discretion is advised.  

Also visit the Fact Sheet: Human Trafficking page on the Office of the Administration for Children and Families website

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