Everyone Deserves Safety

Because of a complex history of gender discrimination, racism, and colonization, many women, newcomers, non-binary and Two Spirit people find themselves in the sex trade.

Recognizing the Signs

Too often, sex traffickers keep their victims in the web of exploitation because sex trafficking can be hard to identify. Traffickers often prey on people who hope for a better life, lack employment opportunities, have an unstable home life, or have a history of sexual abuse.

Victims of sex trafficking are often vulnerable because of homelessness, poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental or physical disability, or lack of legal immigration status. These are characteristics that are present across age, socio-economic status, nationality, and level of education.

Sexually exploited people may…

  • show signs of a controlling or abusive relationship (e.g. often accompanied by someone, has a driver, etc.)
  • have unexplained expensive things or increase in money (e.g. new clothing or jewelry, nails, & hair done on a regular basis, etc.)
  • change priorities to fit his plans and make grand statements of “We are going to…”
  • have a new tattoo or brand (e.g. his name or a saying involving money, the life or the game)
  • start to become secluded; seeing friends less and less and making up seemingly genuine reasons for always cancelling
  • show signs of slowly expanding their boundaries or values
  • dress inappropriately for their age or their environment 
  • have inconsistency of details when telling their story or their whereabouts
  • be afraid of law enforcement and unwilling to receive help
  • be tired during the day from working at night or having unusual sleeping patterns
  • seem anxious, paranoid, tense, fearful, and unable to make eye contact
  • exhibit signs of trauma or abuse such as burn marks, bruises, or cuts
  • not be in control of their own finances, passport, or other ID/possessions

Even if they have shelter, food, nice clothes, and a paying job, we cannot assume that they are not victims needing assistance. They may not identify themselves as a trafficked or exploited victim because their pimp is their boyfriend, friend or family member.   

Victims are most often unaware of their rights, or may have been intentionally misinformed about their rights so they don’t know they can receive help. They often fear for their safety or the safety of someone known to them, as some traffickers will threaten to harm the victim, their friends, or family members if they report their situation to, or cooperate with, law enforcement.


The perpetrators of this crime (traffickers, johns or consumers, pimps) don’t fit a single stereotype. They are represented in every socioeconomic, ethnic, and racial group. Some perpetrators are involved with local gangs, others are members of larger nationwide gangs, and criminal organizations, and some have no affiliation with any one group.

Traffickers can also be women – in fact, many women run established rings around the country. The recruiter could be a young man who is posing as a doting boyfriend, or girl who appears to be friendly.

Pimps or traffickers of sexual exploitation may… 

  • flaunt fancy, cars, clothes, or jewelry
  • frequently spend nights away or out of town
  • act out hip hop or gang culture in an exaggerated way
  • carry multiple cell phones
  • use language pertaining to trafficking (e.g. choosing up, squaring up, stable, knocking, out of pocket etc.)
  • have no actual job that one could visit (e.g. claims to work at or own a record label, modeling agency, magazine, etc.)
  • pull the victim into his dreams as everything becomes we in the victim’s conversation (when a person internalizes a dream, they will work harder to achieve it)
  • attempt to fast track the relationship (e.g. sexual intimacy or talking about marriage within a short time frame)
  • work diligently in the victim’s life to decrease relationships and break ties with their support system (e.g. isolates the victim from family and friends by moving away)
  • use the victim’s dreams, fears, and goals against them or to taunt them

Traffickers use force, drugs, emotional tactics, and financial methods to control their victims. Often, recruiters find ways to form strong bonds. For instance, they may promise marriage or a lifestyle the person has not had in their families of origin. They claim they ‘love’ and ‘need’ the victim, and that any sex acts are for their future together.