The Importance of Human Trafficking Awareness


It seems every time we turn on the television we are reminded, through major plotlines or minor one-liners, that human trafficking is still alive in our country.  But as these images continue to circulate, our impression of human trafficking gets more and more distorted:  the young girl who is kidnapped and locked in a basement, or the domestic worker who desperately asks the first stranger he sees to rescue him – extreme, dramatic scenarios that miss the most common forms. Often, we are only moved to action when we read the social media stories about being followed by someone in a mass merchandise store or the odd item being placed on your car in a parking lot, both as ruses to recruit us into a situation of human trafficking.

The problem with being motivated by stories of the rarest forms of recruitment is that we become so concerned about avoiding it ourselves that we can no longer think about combating the exploitation that is happening to so many others around us.  What a powerful way to keep slavery alive – scare us so much with the possibility that it will happen to us while shopping at our favorite store, that we become blinded to the reality of how human trafficking is actually perpetrated most often.  In our communities.

This is why awareness is key.  We need to be talking about human trafficking, what it is, how individuals are recruited, what it looks like, and how we can prevent it, both for our own loved ones as well as for people within our micro and macro communities.  Our response to human trafficking will be recorded in history – it’s up to you to decide where you fit in and what you choose your role to be in the fight against it.

So, what better time to join the movement than January, which is Human Trafficking Awareness month?

What is human trafficking? 

A situation is human trafficking when someone is forced, tricked (fraud), or threatened (coerced), to perform an act of labor or commercial sex.

How are individuals recruited?

Force: something physically done to an individual, including but not limited to kidnapping, beating, constraint, confinement, starvation. More often, physical force is not used until after the initial recruitment process, as a means to intimidate a person into not leaving the situation.

Fraud:  includes false and deceptive offers; promises of employment, an intimate partner relationship, marriage, or a better life. Fraud is more often used as a recruitment mechanism than something like kidnapping.

Coercion:  threats of serious harm to or physical restraint of a person; anything causing a person to believe that failure to perform an act would result in serious harm or restraint against the individual or someone they care about, coercion through familial or romantic relationships, destroying legal documents or document confiscation, debt bondage, psychological manipulation. Coercion is often the most common form of recruitment.

What are potential indicators of human trafficking?

  • The person is under age 18 and is involved in the commercial sex industry.
  • The person has unexplained bruises, black eyes, cuts or marks.
  • The person shows evidence of being in a controlling relationship.
  • The person is in a relationship with a much older adult, or expresses aninterest in relationships with adults.
  • The person uses language from “the life” such as referring to a boyfriend as “Daddy.”
  • The person has a tattoo that he/she is reluctant to explain.
  • The person keeps unusual hours.
  • The person doesn’t have control of his/her own money or identification.
  • The person wears new clothes, gets hair/nails done, has new expensive items but has no financial means to afford these things.
  • The person is secretive about his/her whereabouts.
  • The person is not speaking on their own behalf or has someone speaking for them
  • The person is unable to move or leave job or take time off, and has unusual hours
  • The person is unpaid for work or compensated very little
  • The person lives with co-workers and “employer” and has little to no privacy
  • The person has signs of physical abuse, substance abuse, untreated illnesses or infections
  • The person works “off the books” in a low-paying job

How can I prevent human trafficking?

Labor Trafficking:

  • Purchase items from local vendors with transparent and intentional practices that promote the fair treatment of workers;
  • Buy fair/direct trade items whenever possible;
  • Research production practices of companies from whom you purchase items and contact them to request a company statement/information on what the company is doing to prevent or combat human trafficking
  • Ask that companies be held accountable for their supply chain practices and their treatment of employees

Sex Trafficking: 

  • Do not purchase sex and understand the potential implications of doing so;
  • Talk about healthy relationships with children and youth in your life;
  • Discuss internet/social media safety with children and youth;
  • Support local youth providers/agencies – many organizations are already doing prevention work by helping youth develop skills, self-esteem, and resiliency without calling it prevention work
  • Work to address existing community challenges that overlap with human trafficking: poverty, homelessness, other types of violence

If you wish to report a situation of human trafficking within our service area (Cook County and the nine collar counties), call 877.606.3158. For other reports, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888.3737.888.

If you are interested in learning more about human trafficking in your community and/or ways you can get involved, please email us at

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