If you travel you need to learn how to spot human trafficking

how to spot human trafficking

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery

As a traveler, we’re observers and generally people watchers. It’s also imperative (almost your duty) as a traveler, to learn how to spot human trafficking.

Human trafficking is largely a hidden crime and it is happening EVERYWHERE. In small towns, in large cities, in developed and less developed countries. In airports, airplanes, and hotel rooms.

“[Traffickers] look for people who are susceptible for a variety of reasons, including psychological or emotional vulnerability, economic hardship, lack of social safety net, natural disasters, or political instability. The trauma caused by the traffickers can be so great that many may not identify themselves as victims or ask for help” (Department of Homeland Security).

Human trafficking comes in many forms

Sex Trafficking:

Sex trafficking is the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel children and adults to engage in commercial sex acts against their will. Common examples are solicitation, personal sexual servitude, pornography.

Labor Trafficking:

Labor trafficking the use of force, fraud, or coercion to force children and adults to work against their will in many different industries. Common examples are debt bondage, forced labor, and child labor.

How to spot human trafficking while traveling and at airports

Warning signs:

 A traveler has not dressed appropriately for their route of travel

If you’re checking luggage and notice that a traveler has few or no personal items (no carry on or small luggage). Notice if they’re less well-dressed than who they are with.  They may be wearing clothes that are the wrong size or are not appropriate for the weather on their route of travel.

The victim’s communication seems scripted, or there are inconsistencies with their story

Sometimes traffickers will coach their victims to say certain things in public to avoid suspicion. A traveler whose story seems inconsistent or too scripted might be trying to hide the real reason for their travel and only reciting what a trafficker has told them to say.

They are afraid to discuss themselves around others, deferring any attempts at conversation to someone who appears to be controlling them.

Fear and intimidation are two of the tools that traffickers use to control people in slavery. Traffickers often prevent victims from interacting with the public because the victim might say something that raises suspicions.
Check if the victim appears withdrawn, quiet or scared (both children and adults). Check if the child and adult or both adults are engaging in dialogue (if at all).

They can’t move freely in an airport or on a plane, or they are being controlled, closely watched or followed.

People being trafficked into slavery are sometimes guarded in transit. A trafficker will try to ensure that the victim does not escape, or reach out to authorities for help.

Child trafficking (check for all the above and the following):

  • A child being trafficked for sexual exploitation may be dressed in a sexualized manner
  • A child may appear or seem to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • The child may appear to be malnourished
  • A child may show signs of physical or sexual abuse. Watch out for bruises, cuts, scars, and cigarette burns.
  • The child appears disheveled, nervous, scared and feels uncomfortable speaking or answering questions
  • A minor is with her “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” who appears controlling and shows signs of physical and verbal abuse.

How to spot human trafficking in hotels

Also the same as above.

  • Watch out for people paying in cash, especially with children
  • If the victim does not have ID (hotels should start asking all adults for ID)
  • If you notice different people entering the hotel room or waiting outside of the hotel room
  • For children: the hotel is usually the last time a child is seen and the last chance before he/she can be recovered

Where does human trafficking occur?

EVERYWHERE. Big cities, small cities. Developed and developing countries. While traveling, keep eyes out when you’re in big cities like  Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas. But that triangle has expanded to include Phoenix and Colorado. Even Honolulu since it is the last stateside boundary before going into or leaving Asia. Watch out for big events like the Superbowl, the Olympics, conventions and sports events, especially where a lot of men go.

how to spot human trafficking

Actions to take to prevent human trafficking

Once you know what to look for, spotting human trafficking isn’t the hard part. The hard part is when you witness it, what the hell do you do? You’re going to be uncomfortable, scared, and stressed. Remember to BREATHE. Then, take action.

  • NEVER ATTEMPT TO RESCUE THE VICTIM. This puts the victim in direct danger. Do not do this.
  • Record the airline, flight number, airport of departure and landing of your flight
  • Record the seat number of the potential human trafficker and child
  • If possible, take a photo without drawing attention to yourself. If you can’t do this discreetly, DO NOT DO IT AT ALL. Make note of any identifying marks: tattoos, distinct physical features, and birthmarks (of the victim and the trafficker). Make note of their luggage, etc.
  • Report your suspicions IMMEDIATELY to a flight attendant, gate attendant, or the front desk lobby. They are usually trained to deal with this and will call the proper authorities.
  • Call the National Sex Trafficking Hotline: 1 (888) 373-7888 and report the same thing
  • THEN LET IT GO. That’s all you can do. Now let it go.
  • To be proactive without spotting human trafficking, upload a picture of your hotel room to Traffick Cam, where these photos will be used to determine where perpetrators of sex trafficking are committing their crimes
  • Spread the word. Share this article and any other similar articles. Teach others how to spot human trafficking. Don’t assume somebody else will notice and report it. YOU NEED TO DO SOMETHING.

This list was compiled with help from the following organizations or articles:

I hope you have learned some valuable tips on how to spot human trafficking and spread the word to others on how to spot human trafficking.


  • Wow! I’ve never realized how close to home this is and how often it occurs. Thank you for putting this together so that more people can educate themselves on how to spot the problem and help the victims.

    We’re currently on a family gap year so we will come into contact with many different people on our journey. The thought is that this often happens elsewhere, but you’re talking about airports I used to consider my home airports!

    Now that I am a mama, trafficking is so much more terrifying. Just the thought puts my stomach in knots. I’ll be sharing this with my husband too so he can keep a closer watch on what’s happening around us and be sure to pass it on to our network.

    BTW, I found you through your guest post on YTravelBlog and am so happy I came over to check out your blog. Cheers!

    • Hi Deanne,
      THANK YOU for visiting! I’m so glad you found this post and found it useful and informative. I had no idea how common human trafficking was AND taking place right in our backyards. I’m so glad you learned a lot and plan on sharing it with others as well. Caz and Craig are great aren’t they?! Love them.

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