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How To Recognize Human Trafficking Happening To Someone You May Know

Written by: Heidi Chance, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Heidi Chance

Recently, I viewed a TikTok video, where a female was describing “Indicators of Human Trafficking”. The issue with the video was that she was describing instances that have nothing to do with indicators of Human Trafficking!

Back lit image of the silhouette of a woman with her hands pressed against a glass window.

Misinformation isn’t helping anyone

In the video she was warning women to pay attention to such things as a shopping cart left behind a car or a sticker put on her car window. Not that I am telling people to not be paying attention to suspicious behaviors or to take situational awareness seriously, but the confusion about these types of things being indicators of Human Trafficking is very clear.

There are some things to look for when suspecting that someone you may know is involved in being trafficked. As a retired undercover Human Trafficking Detective, I would say that this exhaustive list will give you a good idea about actual indicators of Human Trafficking happening every day under our noses in the United States and across the world.

“Good lord…this is not what trafficking in America looks like – and this is how we create paranoia and vigilantism. We can’t fix a problem if 99% of the public doesn’t know how to even recognize nor define it.”

– Detective Heidi Chance, Retired Phoenix Police Department Human Trafficking Detective

Here are some actual indicators of human trafficking

  • Signs of Physical abuse

  • Regular movement from city to city/constant traveling

  • Transient or living out of hotels

  • Lack of eye contact or lack of social interaction

  • Use of a trafficking terminology

  • Fear of Law Enforcement involvement

  • A person who is not in possession of their personal identification or birth certificate

  • Provocatively dressed or dressing less inappropriate than before

  • Use of references to sexual situations online or in personal conversations

  • Possession of unexplained cash

  • Gifts given to the person with seemingly nothing expected in return

  • New person in their life who tells them lots of promises of travel, expensive trips, and expensive shopping excursions

  • Sudden possession of expensive clothing or other items without means to purchase these items

  • Possession of multiple hotel keys or a juvenile with a hotel key

  • Not allowed to speak for themselves

  • Only calls home when someone else is listening to the phone being set on speaker

  • Person refers to their significant other as “Daddy”

  • Signs of poor hygiene, malnourishment, sudden weight loss

  • Poor living conditions

  • Living with their “employer”

  • Answers to questions appear to be scripted or rehearsed

  • Individual has no control over their own finances or money

  • Appear fearful of companion or under their control

  • Owes money to a person they are fearful of

  • Individual can’t say where they are when they travel or the location they are traveling to

  • Fearful of telling others about their situation

  • Second cell phone or communication device, with or without cellular service or someone else paying for their phone

  • Individual “working” nighttime hours, but won’t explain or speak to others about their job

  • Individual seems to be closely monitored at all times by their companion

  • Unusual new tattoo with moniker or symbol for example money, crown or nickname for the companion

  • Companion’s social media account shows the person as a pimp or someone portraying the trafficking lifestyle

  • Person under the age of 18 involved in prostitution or escorting

“Nothing happens just because we are aware of modern-day slavery, but nothing will ever happen until we are.“

– Gary Haugen, Founder, CEO, and former President of International Justice Mission

Education with accurate information can turn the tide in the fight against Human Trafficking. Misinformation will dilute the public’s understanding and interest in actually recognizing and responding to this issue.

To learn more about Human Trafficking, and what you can do to be involved in the fight against it, check out here.

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Heidi Chance Brainz Magazine

Heidi Chance, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Heidi Chance, a 25-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department, dedicated her career to combatting sex trafficking, notably serving 13 years in the H.E.A.T (Human Exploitation and Trafficking) Unit. As an expert in forensic child interviews, abuse identification, online child protection, and undercover operations, she's a sought-after speaker, addressing law enforcement and many conferences. Heidi is featured in the PBS documentary "Sex Trafficking in America" and now uses her platform at to raise public awareness and provide training and consulting services to law enforcement, contributing to the fight against sex trafficking.



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