By Gwen Clancy

Runaways and Human Trafficking: The Reality, And How You Can Help

photo courtesy of NutMegMae (Flickr)


By Gwen Clancy

The Facts on Runaways and Human Trafficking

What would you say if I told you that a large number of runaway and homeless youth are victims of human trafficking? You’d probably shake your head in disbelief or tell me that I was wrong. However, according to statistics from different programs all over the country, it’s true. For instance, here are three statistics on runaways and human trafficking.

But, what does a victim look like?

That’s not an easy answer to give because there is no specific profile of a victim. They can be from diverse backgrounds, identify as gay or straight, be of any age or gender.

Same with the traffickers. They can be U.S. citizens or foreign nationals, male and female, adults or minors. Some are victims themselves who have been forced to recruit more youth.

Unfortunately, in some cases, they are also friends, intimate partners or family members of the victim making it more difficult for a youth to self-identify as being a victim of trafficking. They may feel that it is their responsibility to continue performing the sex acts or doing the work because of the close relationship with the trafficker.

Now you may be asking yourself, ‘what’s the difference between sex trafficking and labor trafficking?’

I will tell you. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline,

“Sex trafficking is recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, soliciting or advertising of a person for a commercial sex act, in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.

Or, more simply, when someone is forced into street prostitution, brothels, escort services or to work at hotels, motels and truckstops.

Labor trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery. This includes things like domestic servitude, sales crews, working in the service industry or small businesses.”

However, not all youth you see working at a truckstop are necessarily being trafficked.

Signs to look for:

  • Lack of knowing where they are.
  • Not having their identification or other documents.
  • Signs of being abused or malnourished.

How you can help a possible human trafficking victim:

  • If you start a conversation with youth and they have inconsistencies in their story or if they can’t tell you much about their employer, these may be red flags that they are being trafficked.
  • If you are comfortable continuing a conversation, there are some open-ended questions you can ask such as:
    • “How did you meet this person/boyfriend/employer?” or
    • “Who do you depend on since you’ve been on the streets?”
  • And if you aren’t comfortable, that’s fine, too. You can contact the local police or the National Human Trafficking Hotline ((888) 373-7888).

Remember, if you do suspect that a youth is being trafficked, they may not believe they are a victim.

They may not want your help and might tell you that they are in love with their pimp or trafficker. This could be because they are afraid to go home due to past trauma, such as; abuse or maltreatment.

They may feel helpless or ashamed of what happened to them; they may also be afraid of what will happen to their families or loved ones if they talk about it because of threats from their trafficker. And these are just a few of the reasons that victims of trafficking may not tell you their story.

There are places that can provide you or the youth with support and resources.

If you suspect a youth is being trafficked, you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888. You can also provide youth with our toll-free, confidential hotline 1-800-RUNAWAY (+1 (800) 786-2929) or online services at The National Runaway Safeline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  We are here to listen, here to help.


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