The Hidden Crime: Understanding the Signs of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is often referred to as a “hidden crime” because most of us don’t know it when we see it. But the fact is that human trafficking exists in every country, including the US. It exists in every type of community from rural to urban. The best guess is that there are 49.6 million people across the world who have been trafficked for modern day slavery purposes. And the buying and selling of people is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world.

Who are victims of human trafficking?

Victims of human trafficking can be any age, gender, race or ethnicity and be on any rung of the social ladder. They may be physically forced into being trafficked, but these relationships can also start with online coercion, especially of children.

Over the course of two weeks in 2022, during a nationwide sweep conducted by the FBI and local police departments, 84 victims of child sex trafficking and exploitation were located as well as 37 actively missing children. Springfield Police Department arrested two people in the sweep, so it is happening in our community.

What is human trafficking?

While many victims are forced into sexual labor, there are many who are forced into manual labor in both legal and illegal operations. Factories, massage parlors, restaurants and farms are just a few of the common places victims of human trafficking can be forced to work. Throughout the world:

  • 9 million people are in forced labor in private or state-run companies, or criminal exploitation.
  • 4 million people are experiencing forced domestic servitude in private homes.
  • 3 million people are in forced sexual exploitation (including 1.7 million children).
  • 9 million people are in a forced marriage to which they had not consented.

In addition to US citizens being trafficked, nearly 60,000 people are brought into the country every year as victims of human trafficking.

Signs of Human Trafficking

To make matters worse, human trafficking tends to be hard to spot for most people. Victims are often ashamed or afraid to ask for help and many people don’t know what signs to look for.

Recognizing some of the key signs of human trafficking is the first step in identifying victims and seeking out help. Following are some of the most common indicators that someone may be a victim of human trafficking.

  • A person appears to have very little association with others including family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship
  • A child who has suddenly stopped attending school
  • A sudden or dramatic change in behavior
  • An underage person engaged in commercial sex acts
  • Someone who is disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse
  • Someone who has bruises or other wounds in various stages of healing
  • Some who has lack of personal possessions and stable living situation
  • A person who appears fearful, timid, or submissive
  • A person who shows signs of being malnourished, dehydrated, or having been denied sleep or medical attention
  • The person is often in the company of someone who seems to control them
  • The individual appears to be coached on what to say by this controller or anyone else
  • The person is living in unsuitable conditions
  • The person lacks freedom of movement including unable to freely leave where they live
  • Unreasonable security measures

Note that these don’t all necessarily present in every person that is being trafficked. It’s just a general checklist for when something may seem off.

What can you do to help?

The best thing to do is to keep your eyes and ears open for any suspicious activity. If you think someone is in immediate danger, call 911. You can also call us, or the agencies listed below. Together we can help end this heinous crime.

To report suspected human trafficking to Federal law enforcement:


To get help from the National Human Trafficking Hotline:


or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733)



is a non-profit collaborative of local agencies offering comprehensive services to survivors of domestic, sexual, and family violence. Our services are trauma-informed, survivor-centered, and we welcome survivors at any point in their process. We partner with local non-profit service providers as well as local law enforcement, the Prosecutor’s office, and Children’s Division to make victim services more accessible and completely voluntary. If you do not want to participate in the criminal justice process, we support you.

Our vision is a future where we all work together to meet the needs of domestic violence and human trafficking survivors through comprehensive and accessible services, education, and perpetrator accountability. Through a coordinated framework and co-located response, we strive to break the vicious generational cycle and community impact of domestic violence and resulting victimizations.

We can help you plan for your safety whether you plan to stay in the relationship, or you are actively trying to escape. All our services are free, confidential and survivor centered. Have questions about what services are available? Visit us at 1418 E. Pythian Street or give us a call at 417-874-2600. We are open 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM, Monday through Friday. For after-hours assistance, call the Harmony House/Victim Center’s 24-hour safe line at 417-864-SAFE (7233). If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.