Human trafficking victims are often physically and emotionally abuse, threatened, lied to, and tricked. Victims are both foreign-born and domestic and are exploited for the purposes of commercial sex and/or forced labor. Many victims don’t identify as victims due to a lack of knowledge about the crime and the power and control dynamics involved.
If someone you know is a victim of human trafficking or if you witness suspicious activity where trafficking might be involved, here’s how to help:
- Keep yourself safe. You do not have to approach an individual, as the trafficker might be nearby or watching. However, if the person is alone and you feel comfortable, you may approach the person safely at a time and place that is confidential.
- Express concern for their safety and well-being. Ask questions about their working and living conditions, if they have the freedom to move, and access to their travel documents or identification.
- Communicate that you care about their safety, that they do not deserve to be hurt, and that the abuse is not their fault.
- Tell them good things about themselves. Let them know you think they are smart, strong, and brave. Their abuser may be tearing down their self-esteem.
- Take mental notes about specifics in the situation: license plate, car make/model, clothes, identifying factors, visible tattoos, etc. Then report the incident to local law enforcement by calling 911 and to the National Human Trafficking Hotline by calling 1-888-373-7888.
- Respect their choices.
- Be patient. Self-empowerment may take longer than you want. Go at their pace, not yours.
- Consider calling CFPA to learn more about the kinds of help available, to ask questions specific to the situation, and to learn how you can be an effective and supportive ally.
- Do not accuse, diagnose, or judge their choices; do not draw conclusions about what they may be experiencing or feeling; and do not judge or criticize their abuser.
- Do not pressure them to leave the trafficker or abusive relationship. There are many reasons they may choose to stay. It is possible their trafficker has threatened to hurt them, their family, or their children if they try to leave. The abuser may control all of their finances and personal identification documents such as passport, driver’s license, social security card, and may have isolated the victim from friends and family, leaving them with very few resources of their own. The abuser may have promised payment and a better life, and it is never as simple as encouraging a victim to “just leave” but by all means, communicate to them that help does exist, and that people in their community care about them and their family and want them to be safe.
- Do not feel the need to be an expert. Do not try to provide counseling or advice, but do connect them to trained people who can help. CFPA staff are available at 309-691-0551 or the 24/7 crisis hotline at 1-800-559-SAFE (7233). You can call also the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
All victim services are free and confidential.