How to Identify and Assist a Victim of Trafficking


traffickingMedium2How to Spot Trafficking at an Airport

Sex trafficking is a big business in South Africa and around the world. How come more people don't notice it?

Every time a new horror story about sex trafficking surfaces, about women held for years against their will, or forced to be child brides, or ensnared in a prostitution ring, the same question also surfaces: why didn’t anyone notice anything?

Hiding in Plain Sight
One of the reasons sex trafficking is frequently overlooked is that it’s hiding in plain sight. Victims are not always bundled across borders in cars, vans with blacked out windows, or transported in shipping containers. Sometimes they’re simply brought in with thousands of other international travellers on an airplane, and are sexually exploited at a local hotel.

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Law enforcement authorities are beginning to work together with businesses — particularly hotels and airlines — to spot people who are being moved around against their will. While many of their techniques are proprietary, and the companies don’t want to say too much about them, there are a few measures that anyone might use.

Asking the Right Questions
Delta airline employees are now being trained to ask certain questions at check-in, Letty Ashworth, general manager of global diversity for Delta, told a packed Concordia Summit
symposium on human trafficking in New York City on 29 September 2014. They’re told to carefully watch for anyone whose documents are not in their own possession. “If for instance you are at a gate and there is an unaccompanied minor, do they know the name of the person they’re traveling with, or where they’re going?” she said.

Crewmembers also watch for unusual activity on a plane, such as when kids don’t answer questions, or avoid eye contact when addressed. Other tell-tale signs might be bruising, or other wounds, or a ravenous appetite.

Trafficking Victims are Also Local
Don’t expect trafficking victims to be foreign: 83% of people forced into prostitution in the U.S. are from the U.S. They’re often runaways and sometimes have been at the mercy of their traffickers for so long they see themselves not as women being pimped out for sex but as girlfriends helping their boyfriend pay the bills. “We’ve had women testify on behalf of their abuser, that they loved them and were not there against their will,” even though they had been severely abused, said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance at the event. He’s seen at least one woman tattooed with a barcode by her trafficker, as a mark of ownership.

Vance’s office is also working with hotels to prosecute sex traffickers. One of the big red flags is people who have a pattern of frequently booking a series of hotel rooms on a credit card then paying in cash.

Choose to Care
The response that trafficking activists are hoping for is similar to the response for suspected acts of terror: “If you see something say something.” Vance is a bit more circumspect. “First people have to decide they care about it,” he said in an interview. “Unless you acknowledge that it happens and are prepared to talk about it, it’s not going to change. It all starts at the grass roots.”

Belinda Luscombe 30 September 2014,

How to Identify and Assist a Trafficking Victim

Everyone has the potential to discover a human trafficking situation. While the victims may sometimes be kept behind locked doors, they are often hidden right in front of us at, for example, construction sites, restaurants, nail salons, agricultural fields, and hotels. Traffickers’ use of coercion – such as threats of deportation and harm to the victim or their family members – is so powerful that even if you reach out to victims, they may be too fearful to accept your help. Knowing indicators of human trafficking and some follow up questions will help you act on your gut feeling that something is wrong and report it.

Human Trafficking Indicators
While not an exhaustive list, these are some key red flags that could alert you to a potential trafficking situation that should be reported:

  • Seems anxious, fearful or paranoid.  Avoids eye contact.
  • Tearfulness or signs of depression.
  • Unexplained bruises or cuts or other signs of physical abuse.
  • Appears to be in a relationship with someone who is dominating.
  • Never is alone and/or always has someone translating or answering questions on their behalf. 
  • Not in control of their own finances.
  • Presents with secrecy or unable to answer questions about where they live. 
  • Inconsistent details when telling their story. 
  • Has no identification such as a license, passport or other ID documents.
  • Inability to leave their job or residence.  Says they cannot schedule appointments.
  • Being a recent arrival to the country and does not speak English.
  • Is under 18 and providing commercial sex acts.  Or at any age unwillingly providing commercial sex acts. 
  • Is afraid of law enforcement, or receiving help from an outside entity.

Questions to Ask
Assuming you have the opportunity to speak with a potential victim privately and without jeopardizing the victim’s safety, here are some sample questions to ask to follow up on the red flags you became alert to:

  • Can you leave your job if you want to?
  • Can you come and go as you please?
  • Have you been hurt or threatened if you tried to leave?
  • Has your family been threatened?
  • Do you live with your employer?
  • Where do you sleep and eat?
  • Are you in debt to your employer?
  • Do you have your passport/identification? Who has it?

Where to Get Help
If you believe you have identified someone still in the trafficking situation, alert law enforcement immediately through the anti-trafficking organisations numbers provided below. It may be unsafe to attempt to rescue a trafficking victim. You have no way of knowing how the trafficker may react and retaliate against the victim or you. If, however, you identify a victim who has escaped the trafficking situation, there are a number of organizations to whom the victim could be referred for help with shelter, medical care, legal assistance, and other critical services. In this case, call the National Human Trafficking helpline: 0800 555 999, S-Cape: 021 – 788 8207 or Stop Trafficking: 082 456 2459.

The above is adapted from the FBI’s Innocence Lost National Initiative.

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves." Proverbs 31:8

What can I do to stop human trafficking?
your community on how to avoid being trafficked. Invite Africa Christian Action to present the Traffick Proof presentation to your school or church group. Contact: 021 – 689 4480, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Print out and distribute our STOP the Traffick leaflet; buy or rent Nefarious and Whistleblower films to screen to your church group.

Report Brothels to the Vice Squad
The Vice Squad are a unit of the Cape Town Metro Police, tasked specifically with cracking down on the exploitative practice of prostitution.

Over the last few years they have conducted numerous raids on brothels in the Cape Town area, and have helped to uncover several cases of trafficking and child prostitution. They have been able to shut down some brothels for not having a business licence. Trafficked victims are taken to shelters and child prostitutes are restored to their families where appropriate.

Prostitution is still illegal in South Africa according to the Sexual Offences Act, although the act is rarely enforced by SA police.

If you live in Cape Town, and suspect that a house in your area may be operating as a brothel, or if streets in your neighbourhood are affected by prostitution, please report this to the Metro Police.

Contact Assistant Chief Nathan Ladegourdie: 021 980 1404 or 073 709 3963, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Volunteer or Support a Shelter
Volunteer at, or support, the Doctors for Life outreach centre to prostitutes in Durban - Life Place by contacting them on: 032 - 481 5550 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ,

STOP Trafficking and S-Cape run shelters for victims of trafficking in the Cape Town area. You can support them by volunteering, giving skills training to the residents, or by donating toiletries, cleaning products, or food.

To support or volunteer at a shelter contact: STOP Trafficking 082 456 2459, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ,, or S-Cape Home: 021 – 788 8207 ,

You can download Stop the Traffick! in tract format here.

Participate in our Women’s Day Outreaches
On Tuesday, 9 August, Women’s Day, Africa Christian Action will be setting up anti-trafficking awareness literature tables in four different shopping malls in the Cape Town area: Longbeach Mall (Noordhoek), Riverside Mall (Rondebosch), Parow Centre and Cobblewalk Shopping Centre (Durbanville). There will also be a similar outreach in Potgietersrus.

This is also a great opportunity to reach people such as Muslims, who are unlikely to step inside the four walls of a church. If you are in Cape Town, sign up to help out at one of our tables. We need lots of volunteers! The outreaches start at 9am on 9 August. Sign up for a three hour shift or for as much time as you are willing to give.

See also:
Stop the Traffick!
William Wilberfoce – Setting the Captives Free
Slavery, Terrorism and Islam

Carte Blanche recently broadcast a programme on human trafficking in Cape Town. The crew accompanied the Cape Town Metro Police’s Vice Squad on a raid of a brothel, interviewed a trafficking survivor and spoke to the manager of S-Cape’s Shelter for rescued victims.

"Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? Who will stand up for Me against the workers of iniquity?" Psalm 94:16

Africa Christian Action
PO Box 23632
Cape Town
South Africa
Tel: 021-689 4481 
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