Red Flags

Human trafficking has many faces. Most of the time, it is hidden in plain sight. The perp could be female or the victim male. But we will use the most common example of male perp and female victim. One red flag doesn't mean someone is being trafficked. But seeing three or more of these signs just might be significant. Be on the lookout for the following signs. 


Recognize the Signs
Rebecca Bender Initiative
STOP Human Trafficking Community Forum Series, hosted by SI/Raleigh

Many times traffickers will pose as a boyfriend or fiance'. He will 'date' his victim for several months as he is grooming her for the sex industry. Read about some of the tactics from the lips of abusers themselves (powerful and telling):

Why Doesn’t She Leave?

The Power of Coercion

The tactics listed below are from the mouths of abusers themselves (Italicized statements are from actual survivors)


  • I convinced her family and friends that I was the good one.
    (Survivor: “He met my parents and they really liked him.”)
  • I took all of the money so that she depended on me for everything

    (Survivor: “At first, I felt I was a contributor to the home, but then I questioned why he had to control EVERYTHING. He insisted that he take me to the grocery store. He paid the power bills, he mocked me if I didn’t eat what he ate.”)

  • I would start a fight before she visited with friends and family so that eventually, she just stopped visiting.

    (Survivor: “I felt too guilty about leaving after an argument. I was also too embarrassed for my family to see my bruises.”)

  • I moved her way out in the country or to another city. When I left, I took her car battery with me.

    (Survivor: “At first, I felt excited to be in a new adventure, a new town. After a while, I felt I had no one to turn to – no where to go.”)

  • I convinced the people around her that that she was crazy, imagined things, and needed counseling. I could prove it by pointing out her erratic behavior. That way, she had nowhere to go if she tried to leave.

    (Survivor: “I remember thinking, ‘Am I crazy?’ I couldn’t follow the conversation because he kept talking in circles.”)

  • I convinced everyone around her that she was incapable of caring for the children because of her stupidity, mental illness, and laziness.

    (Survivor: “He convinced me that I would lose my child if anyone knew what was really going on in our house.”)

  • I ripped the phone cord out of the wall during a fight when she tried to call for help or threw her cell phone.

    (Survivor: “He even controlled who I called on my cell. I felt sick to my stomach as he read my text messages wondering if the smallest thing would tick him off.”)

  • I had her back me up on illegal things so that I could hold it over her head if she tried to leave.

    (Survivor: “He would tell me that he’d turn me in if I tried to leave.”)

  • I’d convince her she was crazy by playing mind games with her. I’d hide her things, and tell her how incompetent she was so that she’d believe me when I told her that she needed me.

    (Survivor: “I felt that something was WRONG with me. I questioned my sanity.”)

  • I kept her up at night so she was easier to control.

    (Survivor: “I remember feeling ‘crazy.’ He’d fight with me when I returned from work. I kept wanting to just go to sleep.”

  • I turned the kids against her by making her the bad parent and tricking the children. I would make her hit the children by saying either her or me (and I would hit them harder) and then threaten her to report child abuse if she left me.

    (Survivor: “I thought, ‘If I hit them, it’ll hurt less; if I let him do it, it will hurt more.” “I feared the day when my little one got old enough to talk back.”)

  • I made her feel guilty about wanting to break up our family, that she was being a bad mother and wife if she wanted to leave every time things got difficult.

    (Survivor: “He’d say that people who love each other stick it out through rough times – that we could get through this, and I’d think to myself, ‘he’ll change.’”

  • I told her how fat and ugly she was all the time, and how badly she did things around the house. I told her how embarrassed I was of her.

    (Survivor: “I’ wanted him to adore me so I tried really hard to do things to get his approval. He didn’t let me come home until I lost weight.”)

  • I told her that no one else would want my sloppy seconds, that she was used goods.

    (Survivor: “No one else will understand. Who wants to marry a prostitute?”)

  • I’d rape her.

    (Survivor: “I kept wondering why he was doing this to me. I left for a while, but then he came to find me. No one knew that I’d been raped.”)


  • I told her that women’s shelters were for women who really needed it, not for women who wanted to give up on their family, not for whores and prostitutes

    (Survivor: “I believed him. I believed that the shelter staff would not take me in, thinking that it was my choice.”)

  • I made sure she knew that she wouldn’t get a dime from me if she left and that she’d be poor and homeless. I ruined her credit by putting things in her name and not paying them.

    (Survivor: “He told me, ‘you leave with what you came with.’ Even though I had lots of things and made lots of money, I couldn’t take any of it with me.”)

  • I followed her without her knowing so that I could make her believe I had people watching her.

    (Survivor: “I thought there were cameras in my car. I thought I was crazy as I searched for the camera.” “He knew all my actions – what I’d done the day before. He said he’d dreamt it.”

  • I threatened suicide.

    (Survivor: “I felt like he needed me.”)

  • I told her I would kill her.

    (Survivor: “I believed him.”)

  • I threatened to hurt people she loved.

    (Survivor: “I knew he was capable of this. I would do anything to protect them. The abuse was a ‘small price to pay’ to keep them safe.”)

  • I would lock up all of her things, including the social security cards, birth certificates, and pictures.

    (Survivor: “I thought, ‘How am I going to start again? I feel hopeless.”)

  • I broke things and told her that it was her fault for upsetting me.

    (Survivor: “I knew better than to do what made him mad.”)

  • I reminded her of the last time she left me, that it only made things worse.

    (Survivor: “I thought, ‘he’s right; it did get worse last time I tried to leave.’”)

  • I told her that I’d never let her go, no matter what it took.

    (Survivor: “I thought, ‘He loves me that much that nothing can separate our love.’”)

  • I convinced her that I’d find her wherever she went.

    (Survivor: “He had.”)

  • I laughed and told her about men that had violently hurt (or murdered) their ho’s when they tried to leave.

    (Survivor: “He threatened to take me to their house to have them burn me or douse me with gasoline. I knew they had done it to others so I was afraid.”

  • I always kept one of the kids with me so I knew that she’d always come back.

    (Survivor: “How could I leave my step son to take all of my pimp’s anger? The children couldn’t handle it.”)


  • I convinced her that I was sorry for what I’d done.

    (Survivor: “He said he knew he had problems and he wanted to change.”

  • I cried to her.

    (Survivor: “I believed him.”)

  • I promised to change my ways.
    (Survivor: “It got better for awhile.”)
  • I promised to go to drug and alcohol treatment.

    (Survivor: “He looked up class times online and they all conflicted with our schedule. Well, he ‘tried.’”)

  • I promised to go to counseling.
    (Survivor: “But how could a square doctor understand our lifestyle? I didn’t want him to subject himself to that kind of judgment, so I insisted he didn’t.”)
  • I blamed the abuse on stress

    (Survivor: “I thought, ‘we are going through a lot right now. It will get better soon.”)

  • I romanced her with flowers, took her shopping, talking about all the good times, and telling her how much she meant to me.

    (Survivor: “I thought, ‘This is how things are supposed to be . . . if only I’d start acting right.’”

  • I even arranged for us to take a romantic trip together to get back on track.

    (Survivor: “We went to Mexico on a week’s vacation.”)

  • I made her think she needed to stick by me because of all I gave up to be with her.

    (Survivor: “I reminded myself: ‘people in love stick it out through rough times. You don’t just give up.’”)

  • I made her feel sorry for me, and that her love could change me

    (Survivor: “I believed our love was that strong.”)

  • If she didn’t have children, I’d introduce her to mine and tell her I wanted a family with ONLY her because she was special.

    (Survivor: “I really believed, ‘our situation is different. I am different than other girls.’”)

  • I’d give her a night off and rent movies and spend quality time to convince her that I cared

    (Survivor: “I thought, ‘This is how life will be when we finally have enough money.’”)

Courtesy of  Women’s Crisis Center, Grants Pass, OR. Adapted for Sex Trafficking by Rebecca Bender, Survivor; Redemption Ridge, Medford, OR. Why Doesn’t She Leave? The Power of Coercion. Need Help? 1-888-256-7921

Here are some common indicators that you, your loved one, or friend's 'boyfriend' may be a pimp.

  • BIG ONE!!! He can't seem to hold down a regular job (might be involved in illegal
    activities - drug dealing, theft, etc). He is not disabled or retired. He just doesn't seem to have the motivation to get a job and keep it! Always giving one excuse or another as to why he can't get a job. Makes her feel as though it's incumbent upon her to make
    money for the 'family'.
  • May have nice cars, jewelry, clothes, etc. May even look the part of a fashion / modeling agent, recording manager, entertainment mogul. May or may not have a legitimate brick and mortar business. But she will be guided into the perpetual, "Here's what you have to do to make it big."
  • Everything is always about his extravagent dreams; hers are put on hold.
  • Likes expensive things. Needs her to go to work so he can have the nicest clothes,
    jewelry, cars, toys, etc.
  • He's very manipulative. Might be violent when he doesn't get his way. It's always her
  • He doesn't like her family or friends for the most part unless he can manipulate and
    charm them. He tries to isolate her from the people in her life.
  • Tries to fast track their relationship. Talks about marriage and having children very early on in the relationship. May try to get her pregnant on purpose. May also perpetually be in the process of leaving another woman for her. She is the one he really loves, his 'best girl'. Is always dangling that 'carrot' of being a family and finding 'true love'.
  • Frequently goes out of town for 'business trips' or 'family emergencies'.
  • Tries to get her hooked on drugs.
  • "I love you" and "You're so beautiful" is intertwined with humiliating comments regarding her appearance, weight, intelligence, personality, and abilities.
  • Very controlling of her schedule, money, relationships, etc. Threatens her often -
    physical violence, leaving her, hurting her family.

Contributions from Rebecca Bender, Survivor; Brooke Autry, Survivor; Stop Human Trafficking Community Forum Series.

Here are some indicators that you or someone you know is being trafficked: ​
  • Not in control of her own money, possessions, time. He monopolizes her time
    and her life.
  • Appears tired all the time as if she is not getting enough sleep.
  • Shows signs of physical and / or sexual abuse, restraint, confinement, torture,
    depression, or is suicidal.
  • An older male that won't leave or allow her to speak for herself.
  • Has tattoos or 'branding'. Other girls may have same tattoo in same spot.
  • Obsessed with him, talking about his dreams and promises to her that sound like
    they are too good to be true.
  • Suddenly has designer clothes, jewelry, purses, or hair / nails done frequently
    (hair dyed blonde is common).
  • Severe drug addiction.
  • Carries multiple cell phones.
  • Becoming very secretive and protective of cell phone, computer, and activities.
    Super vigilant or paranoid.
  • You are seeing her less and less.
  • She won't make eye contact.

Courtesy of Polaris Project and STOP Human Trafficking Community Forum Series.

Here are some indicators that trafficking may be happening in your neighborhood:

  • Excessive garbage and trash for the size of the home.
  • Unusual and irregular hours of entry and exit.
  • Poorly maintained property, uncut grass, appearance of abandonment, but you
    know someone is living there.
  • Number of residents exceed occupancy standards; tents or outbuildings show
    signs of habitation.
  • Unrecognized, abandoned, or large number of vehicles parked in neighborhood.
  • Living quarters with peculiar security for the environment - barbed wire, bars or
    boarded up windows, guards.

Courtesy of STOP Human Trafficking Community Forum Series.