Indicators of Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation

Trafficked women and youth may be found in escort agencies, massage parlours, street prostitution, exotic dance clubs, pornography production, and residential brothels. Traffickers may also place ads online or in newspapers offering the sexual services of trafficked women and youth.

When traffickers recruit women and youth, they will often work to build a trusting and dependent relationship with them before beginning the process of sexual exploitation. At first, this process may involve a trafficker requiring the person to do increasingly compromising sexual acts with them. Then they may coerce them to have sex with a friend at a party, or to work as an exotic dancer. The trafficker may be emotionally exploiting this person by delivering an ultimatum which results in the trafficked person acting out whatever they suggest.

Most trafficked persons are tightly controlled by their traffickers, through the use of violence and sexual assault, thereby ensuring compliance. Many are threatened with violence or death if they try to leave, and sometimes the traffickers will also impose an “exit” fee. Trafficked women and youth are usually forced to hand over their earnings, or to reach a daily quota. Many are also forced to engage in unprotected or violent sex, to consume drugs or other substances, take contraceptives or have an abortion, or get a tattoo that demonstrates the trafficker’s ownership (known as branding). Many are suffering from mental health issues, including depression and/or post-traumatic stress disorder.

My Story: A lot of people come out of this with [sexually transmitted infections]. I was one of the lucky ones who didn’t. But other women are stuck with that for the rest of their lives.

- Stacey

Play the following video in which Professor Benjamin Perrin talks about the use of cell phones as a common control method used by traffickers.


Control through Cell Phones

(Video runtime 02:07)


(Transcript for the Control Through Cell Phones video.)

Red Flags: Indicators of Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation.

You find out the person is suffering from:

  • A sexually transmitted infection or disease.
  • Pelvic, rectal or urinary trauma (evidence of unprotected or violent sex and multiple or forced abortions).
  • Mental health issues, including depression.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Memory loss.
  • Drug and/or alcohol addiction.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Other health issues, such as back, hearing, cardiovascular or respiratory problems. 

You notice that the person:

  • Has scars or injuries or other signs of abuse or torture.
  • Uses a cell phone to call the same person at regular intervals.
  • Has a tattoo of a gang symbol or a name on their neck or elsewhere that suggests ownership, or wears gang colours or jewellery (such as a necklace in the shape of a gang symbol).


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