What is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide—including right here in Alabama and the United States. Traffickers prey on victims with little or no social safety net. They look for victims who are vulnerable because of their illegal immigration status, limited English proficiency, and those who may be in vulnerable situations due to economic hardship, political instability, natural disasters, or other causes. Language barriers, fear of their traffickers, and/or fear of law enforcement frequently keep victims from seeking help, making human trafficking a hidden crime.

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Who is at Risk?

Individuals with disabilities in Alabama are not exempt from the horrific realities of human trafficking. The common characteristics of human trafficking in persons with developmental disabilities are controlling and limiting the victim’s movements, threatening to harm the victim or his/her family, physically harming the victim, promises of employment or housing, controlling the victim’s finances, withholding the victim’s medications, exorbitant travel and recruitment fees, withholding of victim’s visas and other identifying documentation, or threatening deportation. Individuals with developmental and learning disabilities may face increased risk because they often rely on others to meet their basic needs. As a result, family members, guardians, and/or caregivers have opportunities to exploit and traffic them.

Those with developmental and learning disabilities are more vulnerable to the dangers of sexual exploitation. Up to three or four times greater in fact, then those without disabilities. Some people with developmental disabilities cannot speak clearly or require communication devices or interpreters to make their needs known, so they, too, cannot ask for help. They may not be believed if they report abuse and violence. If they are believed and their cases are prosecuted, their abusers may be given shorter sentences than abusers of able-bodied people.

Recognize the Signs

Recognizing the signs of human trafficking is the first step in identifying victims and can help save a life. Not all indicators listed are present in every human trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators is not necessarily proof of exploitation or human trafficking.

Some indicators that a person with developmental disabilities may be a victim of exploitation or human trafficking are:

  • Malnutrition
  • Poor physical/dental health or signs of abuse
  • Avoids eye contact, social interaction, and authority figures
  • Fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive
  • Has a controlling parent, guardian, caregiver, or romantic partner who will not allow them to meet or speak with anyone alone or who monitors their movements and communications
  • Adhere to scripted or rehearsed responses in social interaction
  • Evidence of work in/out of facilities or group homes
  • Facility procedures fail to protect residents
  • Theft of benefits
  • Lacks official identification documents
  • Offered a job that seems too good to be true and their recruiter/prospective employer avoids giving detailed information about the job
  • Works long hours for very little pay

Digital & Online Safety

There are now more ways to learn, stay in touch with friends, or play games than ever before. Mobile Phones; Websites; Social Media; Gaming; Forums; and Apps. But, there are also many dangers. New technologies make it much easier for people with a sexual interest to contact their victim directly.

Online, it’s easy for offenders to pretend to be someone else of a different gender or age. Using games, websites, apps, or social media, they go about gaining the victim’s trust, known as a “grooming” process. That done, they might suggest meeting in person, fully intent on abusing the person. Or, they may try to talk the person into sending images in a state of undress or naked, taking part in sexual activities via a webcam or smartphone, or having sexual conversations via text or direct messaging. Sometimes, they will encourage the victim by offering money, gifts, compliments, or friendship in return.

Parental Controls and Privacy Settings are useful tools to help minimize the risks you, or your child may face, but they are not 100% effective. It’s really important to understand and teach your child how to be safe online, so they know what to do if they encounter risks. Always encourage them to talk to you, or a trusted person, about anything they find upsetting online.

Dangers of Pornography & Sexting

Financial Exploitation

General Awareness

Grooming & Youth Sexual Exploitation

Labor Trafficking

Online Safety

Safety First

The safety of the public, as well as the victim, is paramount. Do not attempt to confront a suspected offender/trafficker directly or alert a victim to any suspicions. It is up to law enforcement to investigate suspected cases of exploitation and human trafficking.

Who to Contact for Help & Support

If you need help, or suspect a person with developmental disabilities is being exploited in any way, you can report the situation to these agencies for assistance and resources: