What to Do If You Encounter a Potential Instance of Human Trafficking

3 minutes read time
A black and white stock photo, two hands reach toward each other, one behind a chain link fence.
A man reaches toward an outstretched hand to provide assistance to a potential victim of human trafficking.

What to Do If You Encounter a Potential Instance of Human Trafficking

January 11 marks National Human Trafficking Awareness Day in the United States. There are an estimated 25 million victims of human trafficking throughout the world. While these individuals may sometimes be kept behind locked doors, they are more often hidden right in front of us. For example, they may be forced into exploitation at construction sites, restaurants, elder care centers, nail salons, agricultural fields, massage parlors, and hotels – even in private homes. Anyone could potentially encounter a possible human trafficking situation, although it may not be obvious.

Traffickers’ use of coercion – such as threats of arrest, deportation, or harm to the victim or a family member – is so powerful that even if you reach out to victims, they may be too fearful to respond or acknowledge what is happening. In cases where traffickers use deception and fraud as tactics, victims may not even be aware of the full scope of what is happening to them. Knowing the indicators of human trafficking may help you recognize possible human trafficking, how to respond safely and appropriately, and most important, how to report it. While not an exhaustive list, you can find some key indicators here.

If you believe you have identified someone in a trafficking situation, you can take action. In an emergency, notify local law enforcement immediately by calling 911. You may also call the National Human Trafficking Hotline, a national 24-hour, toll-free, multilingual anti-trafficking hotline. Call 1-888-373-7888 to report a potential human trafficking situation or to better understand what human trafficking is and how to respond safely. It may be unsafe for you to attempt to help a trafficking victim directly, and doing so, could place the victim in greater danger.

Should you identify a victim who has escaped his or her trafficking situation and needs help, the National Human Trafficking Hotline can connect you to number of organizations where the victim can receive shelter, medical care, legal assistance, and other critical services. The Hotline can also connect you training and technical assistance opportunities, general information, or specific anti-trafficking resources. The Hotline is equipped to handle calls from all regions of the United States from a wide range of callers including trafficking victims, community members, law enforcement, medical professionals, legal professionals, service providers, researchers, students, and policymakers.

The Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons leads the United States' global engagement against human trafficking, but no single person or entity can fight this scourge alone. Anyone can join in the fight against human trafficking.

Learn the indicators of human trafficking so you understand what human trafficking is and know how to respond if you come in contact with a potential trafficking victim. Human trafficking awareness training is available for individuals, businessesfirst responderslaw enforcementeducators, and federal employees, among others. For more information on human trafficking and additional ways you can help fight human trafficking, visit our website www.state.gov/j/tip or follow @JTIP_State on Twitter and Facebook.

About the Author: Kari Johnstone serves as Acting Director in the Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

Editor’s Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State’s publication on Medium.