Signs of Human Trafficking
While there is no defining characteristic of a human trafficking victim, traffickers often look for victims with noticeable vulnerabilities such as lack of social support networks, low self-esteem, or financial or housing insecurity. Quality care, compassionate responses, and essential services are needed to help survivors of human trafficking recover from their victimization.
- Combatting Trafficking: Native Youth Toolkit on Human Trafficking
- Garden of Truth: The Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota
- Human Trafficking in Tribal Communities - Identifying the Signs
- Sex Trafficking in Indian Country: Advocacy Curriculum
- SOAR for Native Communities
- Talking Circle: Human Trafficking in Tribal Communities
- Talking Circle: Starting a Human Trafficking Conversation in a Tribal Community
“We know while there are similarities in [survivor] experiences, there are a lot of difference as well... we should never be providing services or creating any programs unless we are listening to survivors first. They should always be at the center of what we are doing, and so we should always make sure we are listening to our relatives.”
- Nicole Matthews, White Earth Band of Ojibwe
These questions and answers come from Talking Circle conversations where American Indian and Alaska Native practitioners share their experiences supporting survivors of human trafficking.
This is a complicated question. People will rarely call themselves a victim of trafficking. This language is not how they would describe things. Signs of trafficking can be subtle or confusing in part because of the parallels with domestic violence. Common signs for both can include the individual not having access to paperwork, not talking much about how they earn money, seeming elusive about details of their relationship, etc. It can also be hard to tell if force, fraud, or coercion is happening, or if someone is choosing to do something like willingly having sex in exchange for money or drugs. Further, addiction and other factors can also make it complicated to tell from the outside if someone is a victim of human trafficking. Movement or being on a circuit can also make it harder to spot. This will also look different across the lifespan. The trafficking of a teen looks different than a 35-year-old woman. Both scenarios look different than for an elder victim. What is important is when you start to feel that intuition or something telling you this is not right, engage genuine conversation and focus on the relationship with that person. It may be trafficking; it may not be. But providing a connection and support is important.
Support. Positive support from the very first disclosure paves the way for the survivor’s journey from both within the family and resources outside of the family. Coordinate with the local (Tribal) victim services program so victims can receive culturally considerate healing—burning cedar or sage and having traditional tea available to drink—if desired. Service providers can also consider supporting the families of trafficking victims. The Tribalresourcetool.org is a searchable directory of services available for all American Indian/Alaska Native survivors of crime and abuse in Indian Country.
Survivors of human trafficking need similar support whether they are in an urban, rural, or tribal community. Survivors need comprehensive service options available to them from people who know about human trafficking and needs specific to American Indians and Alaska Natives. Community context must be considered when developing services and responding to the needs of victims and survivors. While urban, Tribal, and rural communities all can benefit from cross-training, collaboration, and relationship building, how it is done will look different. In geographically distanced communities, such as a large reservation or rural area, meetings may need to rotate locations or allow for virtual options. Most Native people do not live on the reservation and may not have ready access to culturally based programs. If your community does not have local options for healing or support for Native survivors, form connections with Tribes or with nearby cities that may be hubs for urban Indian people. The cultural connection is important; and many urban Indians can feel invisible in their urban communities. Regardless of where you are located, it is important to have people who are trained on human trafficking and connected to people doing this work across your state or across the country.
If you suspect trafficking or have a client who is a victim of trafficking, contact local, state, and federal law enforcement. Law enforcement will put you in contact with victim services personnel who will help identify service providers for those clients wishing to exit human trafficking. You can also contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888, 233733 or text "HELP" or "INFO" to 233733. In rural Alaska, reach out to the clinics and regional medical and behavioral health directors to see what services are available in their agencies. In addition, reach out to the Alaska State Troopers and the Alaska Department of Law Human Trafficking Task Force for more support and information.
As Indian people, we never had words for human trafficking in our Tribal languages because, I (Bonnie Clairmont) believe, there was not such a thing as sexual exploitation or trafficking prior to colonization. Because of the long history of cultural oppression and historic trauma, this has contributed to the culture of silence seen in a lot of Tribal communities today. It is really difficult to talk about this among all different age groups. We need to talk about this; we need to look after one another, which is a part of our cultural traditions. We need to spread awareness so that we can increase vigilance in our communities using all different forms of media. From social media to print materials like newsletters, Tribal newsletters, posters, and fact sheets. Also, perhaps Tribal radio stations. We need to be educating teachers, school resource officers, people who respond to domestic violence and so forth. And we cannot just hand out information, we have to talk, we have to visit about this problem in all aspects of our community so that we can create a climate where people feel comfortable about talking about such things, because there is this kind of shroud of secrecy around it. The material needs to be culturally appropriate and developed by Tribal communities themselves, especially with input from survivors. The materials should take into account geography, population, jurisdictional challenges, and the language. Not all people are bilingual. The resources really have to be Tribal specific. The website www.tribaltrafficking.org is filled with resources including links to the Garden of Truth report on trafficking of Native women in Minnesota. There is also a curriculum for advocates to train other advocates on human trafficking; it has foundational information for anyone on trafficking.
You are absolutely correct. There is no way for one entity, one agency, or one person to tackle the issue. Survivor voices are going to be the most important to utilize and integrate into our practices, our services, our models. Really anybody can be involved in the effort as long as they have a good comprehension of what human trafficking is and the importance of believing survivors. A lot of trauma-informed care goes into survivor-led programming. This includes program policy intervention, product design, implementation, or evaluation. Each aspect should be done with intentional partnership, collaboration, and input from survivors to ensure the program and product accurately represents their needs, interests, and perceptions. Professional agencies should also be included in these partnerships, possibly a task force or multidisciplinary team. Include law enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and organizations offering support and funding to help human trafficking survivors. This may be housing, clothing, security, and shelters. Victim advocates can help guide and offer resources throughout the process. Each partner needs to operate in a trauma-informed way, effectively communicating to encourage survivors who are helping work on cases and building programs that will benefit the community.
A lot of advocacy and service is going to overlap. The main goal is to offer support, offering resources and not telling people what to do. Create a place where people are open to making their own choices with all the provided resources and tools. We cannot tell somebody what the best path of their healing will be. Human trafficking is more complex when it comes to working with survivors or victims. Even terminology, such as using the word survivor or victim, can be complex. We do not dictate whether we refer to them as a survivor or a victim. It is a very long, and not linear, process to get out of the human trafficking life and mentality. The process when you go from being or identifying as a victim into a survivor that can take years. Human trafficking advocacy is more intensive; it is a very complex issue requiring more wraparound services. Sometimes, with so many agencies involved, advocates can work to make it easier and more manageable for survivors; it can be so overwhelming. Another difference between human trafficking advocacy and other kinds of advocacy is the longer-term services. Survivors of human trafficking may take a while to go through the different stages of progressing out of the trafficking lifestyle. This can include potentially going back to their trafficker and the amount of time it takes for them to identify that they were trafficked.
Do’s — Provide a safe space to talk about human trafficking. Be honest about the issue. Keep the door open for good, honest communication. Be honest in terminology and words. Provide factual information with difficult words associated with human trafficking. Offer education to explain what the media or TV has shown us on what human trafficking is versus what it really is. Offer facts.
Don’ts — Do not appear like you have all the answers. Do not close the door at any point. Do not use dark imagery or fear tactics when producing flyers or social media posts to get an emotional reaction.
Because the work in Tribal communities can be so different, it can look different than what is done in mainstream or in urban areas. A lot of the programs have some sort of cultural sensitivity and cultural aspects that can assist with a survivor and a victim and their process of healing. Tribal programs will differ from Tribe to Tribe and Nation to Nation and program to program. A lot of times, Tribes will have options of spiritual leaders with whom people can go and talk. Ceremonies may assist a person with their healing process. The healing process can start a person's resiliency to deal with the issues they want to overcome. Look for and pay people familiar with Tribal programs to evaluate programs based on the uniqueness of each Tribe and their locations.
The Alaska Native Justice Center uses a human trafficking screening tool with its clients; the tool does not ask clients if they have been trafficked. Screening tools for advocacy when working with trafficking survivors are not extremely direct. You do not want to tell someone they have been trafficked. That is up to them to come to terms with when they are ready. Often times, individuals do not self-identify as a trafficking victim/survivor. Advocates do not want to force trauma or labels on them. Transparency and honest communication are vital to building trust with a trafficking victim/survivor. If you feel a client has been trafficked, go over the screening tool without being abrasive about it. Make sure not to force an answer if they are not comfortable talking about it.
Remember each Tribal community has their own unique needs and culture. Many aspects of healing in a Tribal community are based on individual cultural practices. Be mindful of these traditions and work within the Tribal communities existing cultural beliefs to build trust and personal relationships. This partnership can help identify new solutions to better meet the needs of that Tribal community.
Here are some ways to get started: (1) become educated and trained to serve human trafficking victims and survivors; (2) foster networking among human trafficking service providers around the state and nationwide; (3) provide advocacy support and include cultural aspects for promoting healing; (4) address human trafficking codes within your community.
If you or a loved one are experiencing human trafficking, you are not alone.
Strong Hearts Native Helpline and the National Human Trafficking hotline are available 24/7 to listen. All conversations over phone, text, and online chat are confidential and anonymous.
- Strong Hearts Native Helpline - 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483) is a 24/7 safe, confidential, and anonymous domestic, dating and sexual violence helpline for American Indians and Alaska Natives, offering culturally appropriate support and advocacy.
- National Human Trafficking Hotline - 1-888-373-7888, text "BeFree" (233733), or live chat at humantraffickinghotline.org.
During your conversations, if you desire, you may receive referrals to state or local resources.