Trafficking Indicators

There is no clear formula for identifying youth involved with the commercial sex trade. However, the red flags listed here signify common features associated with youth we have identified. If you find that several of these red flags are present for a youth with whom you are working, we recommend you engage them in an honest, safe, and non-judgmental dialogue about their potential involvement in commercial sex.

  • Evidence of a controlling or dominating relationship
  • Secrecy of whereabouts or keeps unusual hours
  • A minor, who is chronically absconding or running away from their family, foster, or group home, or living on the street
  • Signs of gang or ‘crew’ involvement
  • Signs of physical or sexual abuse
  • Friends or family with a history of child sex trafficking
  • Exhibits signs of depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (e.g., increased anxiety or hyperarousal, reliving traumatic experiences, flash backs, intense physical and emotional reactions to stimuli, feeling detached, etc.), or suicidal ideation
  • Fearful, anxious, potentially self-harming (e.g., eating disorders, cutting, substance abuse, etc.), or unusually submissive behavior
  • Untreated STIs, HIV/AIDS, pelvic pain, and other reproductive issues
  • Youth charged with truancy, loitering, battery, theft, or prostitution-related crimes that might mask the fact that human trafficking is occurring
  • Frequenting of websites or social media known for recruitment
  • Constant communication with multiple men; phone record of names and monetary amounts
  • Unexplained shopping trips or ownership of expensive items that the youth cannot afford themselves
  • Suspicious branding or tattoos
  • Overly or indiscriminately sexual behavior or clothing
  • Photos of youth posted online for potential advertising purposes, particularly on sites catering to commercial sex
  • When a minor has an expressed interest in, or is in relationships with, adults who show evidence of controlling or dominating behaviors

***Again, these indicators are not exhaustive and when present alone might not indicate trafficking. However, it is important to recognize these signs so that you can better respond to and help minors in potential trafficking situations***

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (Fifth Edition). Washington, DC: Author. Accessed from