Identifying victims of human trafficking

It may be difficult to identify a victim of human trafficking. How will you know whether the person you have encountered may be a victim of human trafficking? Is a beggar asking for money on the street because she wants to? Could your classmate, who is under 18, be marrying against her will or out of a sense of duty? Why are there people working at a construction site at night? If a chef has been living in Finland for five years, why does he not know anything about the Finnish language or culture? Why is he sleeping in the restaurant?

Victims often find it difficult to talk about their situation. Or it may be that they do not fully understand what is going on. A crime investigator once said that sometimes the only way to identify a victim of human trafficking is simply to trust your feeling that something is not right.

Before you can help a victim, you must spot the signs. On this page, you will find guidance on how to identify potential victims.

The questions and indicators listed below are for reference only. Even if one or more indicators apply, it does not automatically mean the person is a victim of trafficking – they could also be a victim of another crime. Similarly, even if none of these indicators apply, trafficking may still be taking place.

The purpose of these indicators is to trigger identification and provide red flags for further investigation.

It is easier to spot the signs of human trafficking if you understand what human trafficking is, so make sure to read more about it.

Using questions to identify victims

If you have a chance to talk to the potential victim, you can ask them the following questions to identify signs of human trafficking. However, do not put pressure on the person you are talking to, and do not interrogate them. If the person does not want to answer your questions, they do not have to.

Persons who answer “yes” to one or more questions may have become victims of human trafficking or another serioius crime.

  • Is someone pressuring you to do something they would not like to do?
  • (If the person is addicted to drugs or alcohol) Is someone using your drug/alcohol addiction to make you do things you would not like to do?
  • Is someone using the your illegal / irregular stay in the country to make you do things you would not like to do?
  • Is someone using the your homelessness, lack of funds or other problems to make you do things you would not like to do?
  • Is someone threatening to give you away to the authorities if you do not do as you are told?
  • Is someone threatening to shame you in front of you family or other social groups if you do not do as you are told?
  • Do you owe money to someone/a group who is pressuring you to act against your will?
  • Has someone made threats against you or your loved ones?
  • Are you or your loved ones being subjected to violence?
  • Do you fear for your own safety or the safety of your loved ones?
  • Have you not been paid enough salary or received no salary at all, but you cannot do anything about it?
  • Have you been forced to work very long days but cannot do anything about it?Are you living in a house that was provided by the potential abuser?
  • Are you living at the place where you work?
  • Has someone told you not to talk about your situation or told you not to get help?

Using indicators to identify victims

Sometimes you can identify victims of human trafficking by observing their conditions. You should remember, however, that a person may be a victim of trafficking even when none of the indicators below seem to apply.

The following are signs of a person’s subordinate position in relation to the possible abuser/abusers.

Indicators of a subordinate position

…in living circumstances:

  • The person’s passport or travel documents are held by someone else
  • The person is not sure in which country or location they are
  • Someone else is managing the person’s life
  • The person can only move around with someone else
  • Theperson cannot access health care (alone)
  • In case of sexual exploitation, the person cannot use protection against sexually transmitted diseases or use contraceptives
  • The person has been made an addict or someone is maintaining the person’s addiction in order to abuse them
  • The person has signed papers or contracts but does not know their content
  • The person does not wear the right clothes for the weather conditions
  • The person who is under 18 has children of their own
  • The child does not go to school
  • The child does not visit a family clinic or have health checks
  • The child does not seem to belong to the people who say are the parents

…in residence circumstances:

  • The person lives at their place of work
  • The person lives in the household where they must work
  • The person lives in a farm building, construction site cabin or conditions that are below standard or otherwise unsuitable
  • The person cannot freely leave the place where they live
  • The person does not have a key to the place where they live

…in working circumstances:

  • Physical violence at workplace
  • No chance to negotiate working conditions
  • No employment contract or several employment contracts with different content for the same job
  • No or too little payment / salary
  • Excessively long days at work
  • No days off or only a few random days off per year
  • No sick leave

…in financial circumstances:

  • The person is in too much debt
  • The person has no information about their amount of debt or why they are in debt
  • Someone else controls the person’s bank account

…in social circumstances:

  • Isolation
  • Restricted or no freedom to move around
  • Restricted or no chance to communicate with loved ones or others
  • Someone acting as the person’s interpreter seems to interpret incorrectly
  • The person’s loved ones are showing odd symptoms

…in general wellbeing:

  • Having constant nightmares and / or insomnia
  • Having panic reactions
  • Not remembering things
  • Behaving aggressively
  • Behaving obsessively
  • Inertia
  • Afraid of violence towards oneself or loved ones
  • Afraid of being deported
  • Afraid of social shaming
  • Afraid of someone spreading sensitive photos or information about oneself

…in physical health:

  • Signs of physical abuse
  • Signs of tissue or organ removal
  • Untreated chronic illnesses
  • No prenatal care
  • Infections
  • Malnutrition
  • Poor personal hygiene

…in behaviour or emotional state

  • Showing lack of trust
  • Tearful
  • Overcautious
  • Suspicious
  • Aggressive
  • Lying
  • Unwilling to talk about one’s own situation

These indicators were drawn up by Pro-tukipiste as part of its anti-trafficking initiative (Askelmerkit dialogiseen tunnistamiseen), which received funding from the Funding Centre for Social Welfare and Health Organisations (STEA). The initiative included the Indicators for dialogical identification project, carried out with the support of the EU’s Internal Security Fund.  The indicators are also available as a downloadable pdf file.