Keenan Blog

Human Trafficking is a Local Tragedy

January 22, 2019

Recently, one of our colleagues encountered a client who was extremely distressed that day, having spent the morning trying to find a safe home for a 13-year-old who had become a victim of human trafficking.

This really emphasized how real human trafficking is, even in our own communities. It is modern-day slavery, including the exploitation of children for forced sex or labor. It doesn’t just happen to undocumented immigrants; the victims of human trafficking include American citizens, often those suffering child abuse, neglect and poverty. It exists in cities and rural areas, in every U.S. state. Children and youth caught in the web of human trafficking may live right in your neighborhood and attend your school. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that over 50% of trafficking victims are children. California is among states with the highest prevalence of human trafficking.

This form of slavery and exploitation for profit is often in plain sight, and because of this, school teachers and administrators, health care professionals, community agency staff and the public hold an important role in helping to end human trafficking and save children’s lives. To accomplish this, we need to become aware of the signs that may indicate a child is a human trafficking captive, which may include:

  • Unexplained school absences or attending school irregularly.
  • Claim to be an adult but look young.
  • Be a member of a gang, a runaway, or homeless.
  • Display a lack of knowledge about the community.
  • Possess no form of personal identification, such as a passport.
  • Have little or no personal possessions.
  • Possess multiple hotel keys or large amounts of cash.
  • Remain very quiet, as if unable to speak.
  • Have multiple injuries, such as bruises, cuts, burns, or branding marks.
  • Show signs of physical abuse and/or malnourishment.
  • Exhibit fear or a behavior change when law enforcement is mentioned.
  • Have a demeanor that suggests fear, paranoia, anxiousness, psychological distress, or submissiveness.
  • Show evidence of being controlled or appear to be in a relationship with someone who is dominating.
  • Unable to answer questions about where he or she lives or tell his or her story with inconsistent details.
  • Have a sexually transmitted disease, trouble walking, or poor dental hygiene.

While your awareness about human trafficking and reporting suspicious circumstances is vital in curtailing this disturbing trend, investigation and intervention is up to law enforcement. Never attempt to investigate the situation nor confront a suspected trafficker; it could put the child, and yourself, in greater danger. Human trafficking is one type of criminal child abuse. If you work for a school, health care facility or public agency, your organization may have policies and procedures for reporting suspected human trafficking and child abuse.

Ending the tragedy human trafficking and child exploitation depends on recognizing the signs. Then it’s up to the appropriate law enforcement authorities to take the next steps.

About Kathy Espinoza
Kathy is Keenan's ergonomist and conference speaker, authoring numerous articles on ergonomics, injury prevention and management issues that have an impact on Keenan clients.