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A Way to Spot, Report, and Prevent Sex Trafficking

A free online program teaches ordinary individuals how to help fight trafficking

Key points

  • An online program provides information that can help prevent sex trafficking.
  • It teaches people how to recognize the signs of sex trafficking—which thrives in the U.S..
  • it's important to know what to do—and what not to do—when sex trafficking is suspected.

Decent people the world over are appalled when they learn that slavery exists today. Maybe they’ve heard the UN figure that more than 40 million people are trapped in slavery. Maybe they’ve learned that human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world.

Typically when a person learns these facts, they want to do something to combat this crime.

What can individuals do?

There's a free online program that seeks to answer this question. Called OnWatch, created by Jake Neeley and colleagues from the Malouf Foundation and the Safe House Project, it consists of 10 lessons that teach people how to identify likely victims of trafficking.

The program—whose designers include survivors of sex-trafficking—is designed to enable people to spot, report, and prevent sex trafficking where they live, work, and play. "We’re survivor-led, explains Neeley. “Every part of the training and modules come from lived experience. Survivors are a critical part of the video scripts, the postproduction, and all the meetings for planning and producing the lessons. It’s a huge differentiator.”

Brittany Dunn, executive director of OnWatch and COO of Safe House Project, encourages everyone to take the time to go through the different modules. “After someone has spent an hour with OnWatch, they realize that they can have an impact. It puts power back in people’s hands.”

What People Learn

For starters, Kristi Wells, Safe House Project CEO, let’s people know that sex trafficking isn’t something that happens just in some place far away. According to the US State Department, the US is among the top 3 nations for sex trafficking.

Another sobering statistic: Just 1% of sex trafficking victims are identified. Wells contends that signs of sex trafficking are all around, and that if ordinary individuals learn what they are, more survivors will be recognized and can begin their healing journey.

Adobe Stock Image
Source: Adobe Stock Image

Signs that a person might be a trafficking victim include:

1. Disassociation from the world around them

2. Mental health disorders like PTSD

3. Drug or alcohol dependence

4. Hypersexualized behavior or dress that’s inappropriate for the time of year

5. Overly protective of phone or has two phones

6. Extreme reactions to people or experiences

7. Tattoos or branding

8. Physical abuse

9. Unhealthy relationship with apparent abuser

10. Drastic shift in behavior or isolating themselves from former friends.

What to Do If Sex Trafficking Is Suspected

The program warns that if someone sees signs of sex trafficking, “Do not talk to, approach or engage a suspected trafficker. This could present significant risk of severe beatings or even death for the victims being trafficked. It could also put you in danger if the trafficker feels you are a threat to their business.”

An appropriate response is to call the National Human Trafficking hotline at 1 888 373 7888. Or text the word Help to BeFree. However, if a person witnesses an active trafficking situation, they should call 911 to alert law enforcement.

What about a False Alarm?

Many times a situation looks suspicious, but a person just isn’t sure. What to do?

“You’re never going to be at fault for reporting a trafficking situation,” says Neeley. And as Sean Reyes, Utah’s Attorney General says, “We would rather go through 10 cases and have all 10 of them not turn out to be human trafficking than miss one case.”

OnWatch is not asking people to be superheroes who break down a bad guy’s door. Law enforcement has the training for that.

What people really can do is spot and report trafficking. It takes only an hour to learn enough to be able to do that. The more people are on watch against trafficking, the fewer people will be trapped in slavery.


Malouf Foundation

Project Safe House