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Recognizing a Human Trafficking Victim or a Perpetrator

Course Number: 600

Common Characteristics of Trafficking Victims

In most of the literature reported on trafficking, a list of characteristics should call attention to the person seeking assistance or service. The individual will usually present with multiple characteristics that should be considered in a total assessment.13,14,18,19

The items listed below may be visible “outward indicators” during an appointment visit. These along with the emotional and personality characteristics may warrant suspicion and prompt reporting to authorities. Medical history documentation becomes very important in making a diagnosis but also in rendering assistance legally for the victim.

It may be obvious that the person is from another country, and they speak a different language. This factor needs to be addressed and it becomes important that the personnel find someone who can act as an interpreter for the person who may be a victim. Not only can a conversation be misinterpreted, but cultural norms come into play during the interaction. If the office has made contact with those on a local level and is trauma informed, there is often someone who can be provided that speaks the person’s native language. The national organizations such as The National Human Trafficking Hotline have interpreters available and can assist. The organization has someone who can speak the language of the victim.

Indicators of Human Trafficking

  • Recent migration or relocation to the area, indicated at times by a different language spoken.

  • The victim may not know their current location-they are often kept hidden or moved from one place to another. This involves “the circuit” and the victim is moved from one location to another in order to decrease a feeling of stability.

  • Past history of substance abuse or outward signs of past substance use.

  • Person may exhibit signs of mental illness or list past mental issues.

  • Homeless youths are particular targets, and the person may state they ran away from home.

  • Involvement with child welfare system – foster-care children, especially pre-teen and teen girls, are a target for traffickers. Families who become foster care families are warned to be cognizant of any nice articles of clothing or jewelry that a young girl may bring home that the family did not purchase.

  • Obvious traumatic injury as indicated previously.

  • Association with one of the highly known trafficking jobs or locations.

  • Exhibit withdrawn, fearful, and/or submissive interactions toward the person who is with them and acting on their behalf. The


    characteristics of a perpetrator


    are listed within this CE.

  • The person who is with them exhibits controlling behavior-may use forceful behavior to intervene in appointment procedures and demand to be with the person.

Specific questions can begin a dialogue with a suspected victim such as:

  • Is the patient accompanied by another person who does not let patient speak for themselves, refuses privacy, or interprets for patient?

  • Is the patient unwilling or hesitant to answer questions about the injury or illness?

  • Can you detect any physical or psychological abuse or neglect?

  • Does the patient seem submissive, nervous, fearful, or hostile?

  • Is the patient under the age of 18 and engaged in commercial sex?

  • Is the patient unable to provide his/her address or unaware of location and time?

  • Is the patient not in possession of his/her money, identification, or other personal items?

Questions such as those above are available from the Department of Health and Human Services Human Trafficking and Screening Tools with additional information that should make the dental professional suspicious of trafficking situations.19,36