Human Trafficking: Resources for Professionals

What is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery that involves exploiting someone for commercial sex, labor, or organ harvesting purposes.

Forms of Trafficking

Labor Trafficking:

  • Victims provide work through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.
  • There is a wide range of jobs that people who have been trafficked for labor have such as housekeeping, farming, factory or restaurant work, and construction. These people work for little to no pay.

Sex Trafficking:

  • Victims are forced to perform sex acts through force, fraud, or coercion.
  • Victims of sex trafficking are often forced into prostitution, pornography, exotic dancing, or becoming mail-order brides.

Human Trafficking Definitions

Force: includes kidnapping, denying people food or water, or physical abuse.
Fraud: involves deception or lies usually related to getting a better life, working conditions, or pay.
Coercion: threats of police involvement, blackmail, or harm to loved ones, or forcing people to work off debts.

Who Does the Trafficking?

Human trafficking can be done by family, friends, acquaintances, caretakers, and strangers. It’s important to remember that all types of people can be involved in human trafficking. While typically human trafficking is done by men, women can be used as recruiters as away to gain the trust of others more easily. Recruiters also use social media and the internet to develop relationships and begin grooming people for trafficking.

Why are Individuals with Disabilities at Higher Risk?

Public benefits: Many individuals with disabilities receive SSI or SSDI, which traffickers may see this as easy access to money.
Dependence on caregivers : Some individuals need help from caregivers throughout their daily lives which sometimes leads caregivers to take advantage of this dependency and force individuals into prostitution or labor.
Communication deficits: Some individuals with disabilities have difficulties with communication or speech. These challenges could impact their ability to get help and report abuse, which may lead them to be seen as an easy target by traffickers.
Vulnerable to coercion due to unequal relationships: An unequal relationship is when one person’s thoughts and feelings about the nature of the relationship don’t match the other person’s thoughts and feelings. People with disabilities may have limited access to social networks, friendships, and relationships. As a result, they maybe overly eager when someone shows an interest in them and wants to develop a relationship, which puts them at risk of victimization.
Lack of knowledge about rights and self-advocacy: People with disabilities usually receive limited sex education, if any. This includes a lack of education about consent and their right to say no. Additionally, individuals who need assistance with personal care, such as bathing and using the bathroom, may be used to people touching their private areas and may not realize when abuse is occurring.
Social discrimination: Traffickers may target individuals with disabilities due to the social discrimination they face. This relates to the fact that people may not believe individuals with disabilities when they report abuse.

What Does it Look Like and What to Do??

Signs That Someone May Be a Victim of Human Trafficking:

Behavior

Be aware of changes in behavior that are new or unusual such as pulling away from family, friends, and familiar people, or a sudden increase in challenging behavior. Individuals may also start using new words or phrases, specifically related to sex or sexuality.

Physical appearance

Individuals may have injuries they cannot explain or that do not make sense. They may stop taking care of their personal hygiene or may take extra showers or baths or take longer with bathing.

Secretiveness

Individuals may start acting secretive, hiding things, not talking about where they’re going, what they are doing, or who they are with. If they are on social media they may stop using it or use it less often as a way to keep their activities secret.

Control

Individuals may not have control over their money, things, where they go, whom they spend time with, or what they do. They may appear nervous to speak for themselves or let another person (often the trafficker) speak for them.

In order to notice signs of human trafficking, it’s important to look and listen closely to the individuals you support. In addition to the signs listed above, pay attention to any of the following situations you notice if they talk about:
Some traffickers act like a boyfriend or girlfriend to recruit victims. Be aware if they begin talking about a new partner or friend, especially if there are much older.
Be aware if there is a person in their life who seems controlling.
Be aware if they start receiving gifts that are unusual or expensive, especially if they’re from a new friend or partner.

Remember, any one of these signs by themselves may not indicate that a person is being trafficked. But if you see multiple signs or have any concerns, it’s important to report them to the proper authorities.

Reporting Abuse

If you ever see physical or behavior changes that are signs of abuse, report it to:

  • Adult Protective Services (for individuals over 18 with a disability) at 1-800-490-8505.
  • Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
  • Police, if you believe the individual is in immediate danger.

Talking to Individuals

If you’re unsure if someone is a victim, it may be helpful to spend time with them and talk to them.

If you feel comfortable talking to the individual, see if anything sounds strange or out of the ordinary. Some tips for having a conversation:

  • Keep calm. Strong emotions from you may cause fear or shame, which may make the individual less likely to open up.
  • Show them that you are listening and not judging them.
  • Allow them to do most of the talking and allow quiet times if they need it.
  • Ask simple questions to better understand the situation.
  • When talking to individuals with disabilities, remember they may not be aware of the risk of their situation.
  • Some victims of human trafficking are threatened to stay silent. For this reason, they may seem scared after talking with you. It’s important to reassure them that you are a safe person and are here to help them.
  • Do not promise to keep secrets. Let the person know that if they are in danger or someone is hurting them, you need to tell the police and get them help.
  • Keep a record of changes in behavior or conversations that concern you. If you suspect something and aren’t sure, talk to your supervisor.

It is Important to Remember

Individuals with disabilities are at an increased risk of being victims of human trafficking. Anyone can be a trafficker, including family members, caregivers, men, and women.

How to Prevent Human Trafficking

Many people every year are tricked into becoming victims of human trafficking. So how can you keep the people you support safe? Learning more about human trafficking, like you’re already doing, is an important first step.

Relationship Skills

Strong, healthy relationships can lessen the risk by providing them a network of trusted adults to turn to if they have questions or are in a situation that makes them uncomfortable. Having good social skills, particularly around understanding friendships and relationships are also protective factors.

  • Help people develop social supports in multiple settings.
  • Teach healthy relationships vs unhealthy relationships, with a particular focus on equal relationships.
  • Teach different types of relationships and how to tell the difference between them (e.g., stranger, acquaintance, friend, family, romantic). For more information and resources on this topic visit the Be Safe Relationship Social Stories.

Independence

Teaching individuals about independence can help them learn to standup for themselves. Self-advocacy, body autonomy, and body safety are all important skills that can help increase a person’s independence and lessen the risk of victimization.

  • Teach and encourage them to talk about their wants, needs, and opinions.

Saying No

Many individuals with disabilities are taught to be compliant from a young age. Learning that it’s okay to say no and that they have control over their bodies is an important protective skill.

  • They should be able to say no to:
    • Any touch that makes them feel uncomfortable.
    • Situations that make them feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
  • They should have a list of trusted adults in their life that they are comfortable talking to in case of emergencies or situations where they are uncomfortable or unsafe.

Guiding Your Team Through Human Trafficking Awareness Training

This toolkit is designed to help facilitate a discussion with your team about supporting individuals and preventing human trafficking. For any feedback regarding this training, please contact ASERT at info@paautism.org or 877-231-4244.

Human Trafficking Overview

Anyone can fall victim to human trafficking, but data shows that individuals with disabilities are a more vulnerable population. To ensure the safety of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, all staff supporting them should have an understanding of what human trafficking is, how to recognize signs, and how to respond to concerns an individual is being trafficked.

Training Overview

This training is divided into three modules to be reviewed with staff. The first module provides an overview of human trafficking, both for labor and for sex. It also explains why individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are more vulnerable. The second module provides examples of real human trafficking cases of victims with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as signs – physical, behavioral, and situational – that can indicate a person is a victim or being groomed to become a victim.

The third module reviews intervention, including steps to take if you believe a person is a victim of human trafficking. It also explains protective factors and skills to help prevent individuals from becoming future victims.

For each module, the toolkit includes a guide for material presentation and discussion prompts. Every module includes a link to a brief video and worksheets to help develop learning objectives, check for understanding, and facilitate discussion. Also included are resources to learn more information about human trafficking and quick access phone numbers and websites for reporting.

Your Role 

As a supervisor, you will want to structure the trainings to work best for your staff and agency. Below are some areas to consider prior to planning the trainings:

  • Plan to watch the videos and review all of the material yourself first. This will familiarize you with the content and determine how best to organize training groups among staff.
  • Identify goals for your team; are the learning goals the same across roles and individual staff, or do you need to modify the presentation across groups?
  • Has your agency ever had to report suspected human trafficking? If not, has your agency ever had to report suspected abuse (for which vulnerabilities, signs/symptoms, and reporting may be similar)? Real-life examples of recognition and reporting can be helpful to understand the material.
  • Are there additional resources that your staff may need to feel supported in preventing and reporting human trafficking?
  • How will you assess the outcomes of the training? Is there a way the material can be included in future discussions or trainings to ensure continued awareness of human trafficking? Can the materials be used ongoing to help assess vulnerabilities and apply teaching protective skills to the individuals you serve?

Trauma-Informed Teaching and Environment

It is important to apply the same principles used in trauma-informed care for clients to agency employees, as well. Discussing human trafficking and the abuse it involves can be re-traumatizing to individuals that have experienced past trauma. It is recommended that while planning the training, the supervisor acknowledges that talking about human trafficking and the abuse involved can be difficult for some people. The supervisor should remind the group that they have the freedom to move around, take breaks, or speak privately if they anticipate discomfort or experience discomfort during the training. Some staff may do better learning independently and/or in modified form, and this should be recognized as a valid request. At the beginning of each module, the supervisor should reiterate the above allowances to provide a safe learning environment.

Supervisor Planning Guide

Action Steps and Questions

As you prepare to assign and/or facilitate human trafficking training sessions with your team, use this planning guide to help provide the most thorough review session.

Review material included for understanding

  • How should the training groups be organized in my team?

Identify goals for learning and application in each module.

  • What are the goals for my team?
  • Are there roles/positions on the team that would benefit from different or more specific goals?
  • Does any material require modification?

Review within agency past reports of human trafficking or abuse.

  • What re-identified examples can be shared to provide further understanding?
  • How well did the internal process for reporting, documentation, and staff support work then, and did any changes result from it?

Review electronic and hard copy resources.

  • Which resources will be most useful?
  • Where can they be kept for easy access?
  • Are there other resources that my team or agency might benefit from?

Think about the material in relation to your teams long-term plan.

  • What do I want the outcomes to be and how can I assess them?
  • How can the material be included in future discussions/trainings?
  • Is there a way the materials can be used ongoing to help assess vulnerabilities and apply teaching protective skills to the individuals you serve?

Review Trauma-Informed Care policies.

  • In my planning, how will I acknowledge potential re-traumatization among staff?
  • Have I been clear and specific in possible accommodations to ensure a safe learning environment for staff?

Module 1

Review trauma-informed care acknowledgment and accommodations for staff as the material is being reviewed and discussed.

Review learning objectives:

  • Know the definition of human trafficking and the difference between human trafficking for labor and human trafficking for sex.
  • Identify what “force, fraud, and coercion” mean and what they could look like.
  • Identify who can be a perpetrator of human trafficking.
  • Name 6 specific vulnerabilities to human trafficking in individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Watch the video for Module 1: “What is Human Trafficking?” and facilitate discussion based on the video. Below are some example questions:

  • What were some things you were surprised to learn about human trafficking?
  • Have you ever heard of a human trafficking case in which you were surprised it was in PA, or surprised at the description of perpetrators involved?
  • Think about the vulnerabilities discussed for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Which of these do you see in those who you support?
  • Have you ever had an individual you supported with some of these vulnerabilities, that you recall making you particularly uncomfortable?

Check for understanding of the material. Depending on the group size, these questions can be completed individually as a written post-test, or orally as a group.

  • What are the two types of human trafficking?
  • Give an example of the use of the following: force, fraud, and coercion.
  • Who can be a perpetrator of human trafficking? Who can be a victim?
  • What is a factor that makes individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities more vulnerable to financial exploitation and human trafficking for labor?
  • What is a factor that makes individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and human trafficking for sex?

Module 2

Review trauma-informed care acknowledgment and accommodations for staff as the material is being reviewed and discussed.

Review learning objectives:

  • Become familiar with court cases in which perpetrators were convicted for human trafficking that included adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
  • Identify behavioral signs that could suggest a person may be a victim.
  • Identify physical signs that could suggest a person may be a victim.
  • Identify situational signs that could suggest a person may be a victim.

Watch video for Module 2: “What does human trafficking look like?” and facilitate discussion based on the video. Below are some example questions:

  • Had you heard about any of the court cases discussed before? Are there other human trafficking court cases you have heard about in the news?
  • What are some of the behavior changes that could suggest a person may be a victim?
  • What are some of the physical changes that could suggest a person may be a victim?
  • What are some situations that a person may describe or be in that could suggest a person may be a victim?
  • Have you ever worked with someone that showed any of these signs? How did you or others in their life intervene? What was the outcome?

Check for understanding of the material. Depending on the group size, these questions can be completed individually as a written post-test, or orally as a group.

True or False:

  • It is unusual in disability human trafficking cases that benefits are stolen.
  • Labor trafficking cases may include victims who perform unpaid or underpaid labor.
  • Abrupt changes in challenging behaviors are not usually a sign of human trafficking.
  • Withdrawal, secretiveness about friends/social media can be a sign of human trafficking.
  • Hearing the individual use new words or phrases that are unusual or sexually explicit is not a cause for concern.
  • Perpetrators of human trafficking may insist on being present and speaking for the individual, or exert other behaviors that seem “controlling.”
    It is important to be aware of new “friends” or boyfriends/girlfriends.

Module 3

Review trauma-informed care acknowledgment and accommodations for staff as the material is being reviewed and discussed.

Review learning objectives:

  • Identify “protective factors” – skills to help someone be less likely to become a victim of human trafficking – and how you can help the individuals you serve to develop them.
  • Know whom to call and where to find resources if you suspect a person is a victim.
  • Learn how to best respond to disclosures of potential human trafficking.
  • Know how to document and communicate within your organization, and to other support organizations if you have concerns about an individual potentially being a victim.

Watch video for Module 3: “What to do?” and facilitate discussion based on the video. Below are some example questions:

  • What are some protective factors that have to do with an individual’s communication skills and abilities? Were there any relatable deficits in communication observed in individuals you support? If so, what are some ways to teach and reinforce these skills?
  • Some protective factors include what people understand about relationships with others. Which ones stood out to you? What are some ways you could teach individuals about healthy vs unhealthy signs in relationships?
  • Have you ever had an individual disclose abuse/human trafficking? What were some strategies that you used to stay calm and resist emotional reactions or making promises? If you struggled, what are some strategies you could use in the future?
  • Who should be notified if you suspect human trafficking? What process would be used within your organization? What if you encountered this outside of work?

Check for understanding of the material. Depending on the group size, these questions can be completed individually as a written post-test, or orally as a group.

  • What is meant by a “protective factor” for human trafficking?
  • How can family, community, and service involvement protect an individual?
  • Provide an example of how someone can be manipulated within an unequal social relationship, and potentially become a victim of human trafficking.
  • Describe some things to do or not do if a person discloses abuse/human trafficking.
  • What is the process for documenting and reporting suspected abuse/human trafficking?

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Other downloads

Name Description Type File
DSP Resource What is human trafficking? pdf Download file: DSP Resource
DSP Resource What does human trafficking look like? pdf Download file: DSP Resource
DSP Resource What to do when you suspect human trafficking pdf Download file: DSP Resource
DSP Resource How to prevent human trafficking pdf Download file: DSP Resource
Supervisor Guide Guiding Your Team Through Human Trafficking Awareness Training pdf Download file: Supervisor Guide

This information was developed by the Autism Services, Education, Resources, and Training Collaborative (ASERT). For more information, please contact ASERT at 877-231-4244 or info@PAautism.org. ASERT is funded by the Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations, PA Department of Human Services.