Phoenix AZ (January 7, 2016)  Washington, DC-based Polaris is a leader in the global fight to eradicate slavery. They have created a useful list of key “tells” of people who are being criminally exploited and abused by sex traffickers.

If you notice these behaviors or signs, you are advised to note as much information as you safely can and notify the police.  Tell them what you have observed and why you think the situation may be associated with human trafficking.

Many human and sex trafficking survivors are younger than 18.

Some of the signs and behaviors to watch for include:

Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior

  • The individual is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
  • Avoids eye contact

Poor Physical Health

  • The individual lacks health care
  • Appears malnourished
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture

Lack of Control

  • The individual has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)


  • Claims to be just visiting and exhibits an inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
  • Lacks knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
  • Has lost a normal sense of time
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story

If you are close enough to the situation to observe working and living conditions, note that someone being trafficked often:

  • Is not free come and go as he/she wishes
  • Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts or has a pimp / manager
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
  • Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions
  • Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
  • Was recruited through false promises
  • High security measures exist in the locations (e.g. opaque or boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)

By noting when someone exhibits some of these signs or behaviors and contacting the police, you can be sure you are doing your part to help rescue exploited and enslaved people.