Identifying Potentially Trafficked Persons

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If you are a service provider, remember that it is not your role to determine for certain that a person has been trafficked. Your responsibility is to offer support, protection, escape, recovery or a referral to other agencies.

A comprehensive list of services is available at

Whether you are a member of the public or a service provider, consider the following signs to look for.

Signs of abuse and control

The person:

  • Believes they must work against their will.
  • Is unable to leave their current situation.
  • Shows signs that their movements are being controlled.
  • Is subject to violence or threats of violence against themselves or loved ones.
  • Suffers injuries that appear to be the result of an assault.
  • Suffers injuries or impairments typical of certain jobs or control measures such as cigarette burns or branding tattoos.
  • Is distrustful of the authorities.
  • Is afraid of revealing their immigration status.
  • Does not have their passport or other travel or identity documents.
  • Has false identity or travel documents.
  • Is found somewhere likely to be used for exploiting people, for example a drug lab.
  • Is unfamiliar with the local language.
  • Does not know their home or work address.
  • Allows others to speak for them when addressed directly.
  • Is forced to work under unhealthy or unsafe conditions.
  • Is disciplined through punishment.
  • Receives little or no pay.
  • Works excessively long hours over long periods.
  • Has no access to medical care.
  • Has limited contact with their families or with people outside their immediate environment.
  • Believes they are bonded by debt.
  • Is in a situation of dependence.
  • Comes from a place known to be a source of human trafficking.

Signs that a child may be trafficked

The child:

  • Does not have or cannot reach a parent or guardian.
  • Looks intimidated and does not behave like a typical child their age.
  • Has no friends of their own age outside of work or time to play.
  • Lives with someone not related to them and not a guardian.
  • Does not go to school.
  • Eats apart from other members of the "family" or eats only left overs.
  • Does work that is not suitable for children.
  • Travels unaccompanied or in groups with people who are not relatives.

The following might also indicate that children have been trafficked:

  • The presence of child-sized clothing typically worn for doing manual or sex work.
  • Toys, beds and children’s clothing in inappropriate places such as brothels and factories.
  • An adult claims that they have "found" an unaccompanied child.

Signs that a person is living in domestic servitude

The person:

  • Lives with a family and has no private space.
  • Sleeps in a shared or inappropriate space.
  • Does not eat with the rest of the family or gets only left overs.
  • Is unable to leave the home at all, or may only leave in the company of a member of the household.
  • Is expected to be available to work up to 24 hours a day, with few or no days off.
  • Has been physically or sexually assaulted by her employer or members of the household or is subject to abuse or threats.

Signs that a person is being sexually exploited

The person:

  • Moves from one brothel to the next or works in various locations.
  • Is escorted whenever they go.
  • Has tattoos or other marks indicating "ownership" by their exploiters.
  • Works long hours with few if any days off.
  • Sleeps where they work.
  • Lives or travels in a group, sometimes with other women who do not speak the same language.
  • Has clothes typically worn for sex work.
  • Knows only how to say sex-related words in the local language or in the language of the client group.
  • Has no cash of their own and cannot show any identity documents.
  • Suffers from drug or alcohol addiction, or from malnutrition.
  • Has scars or injuries, or other signs of abuse or torture.

Signs that a person is being exploited for labour

The person:

  • Lives in groups in the same place where they work and leaves those premises infrequently, if at all (and only with their employer).
  • Lives in degraded, unsuitable places, such as an old barn or storage shed.
  • Works in unhealthy or unsafe conditions and for excessively long hours.
  • Does not have the right clothing or protective gear for the job.
  • Receives little or no pay and has no labour contract or contract is overly restrictive.
  • Depends on their employer for work, transportation and accommodation.
  • Is subject to security measures preventing them from leaving the work premises.
  • Is disciplined through fines.
  • Is subjected to insults, abuse, threats or violence.
This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by People's Law School, 2014.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence Human Trafficking in Canada © People's Law School is, except for the images, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.