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How PCCs can help victims of human trafficking

December 2015
By: Michele D. Shoun

Human trafficking worldwide – both labor and sex trafficking – has 20.9 million people in its grip. Sadly, slavery is not a thing of the past.

An estimated 1.5 million people are being exploited this way in North America. A vast majority of the cases that have been detected involve women or girls (82%), and most are victims of sex trafficking (71%). Most cases go unreported.

Sex traffickers maintain their lucrative “business” by utilizing the services of abortion and “family planning” clinics. As was revealed in seven undercover videos released by Live Action in 2011, Planned Parenthood has been a willing accomplice, aiding the traffickers rather than the victims.

Pregnancy care centers are in a prime position to help women flee the trap of modern-day slavery. Several websites offer the following tips on how to identify and help clients who may be victims of trafficking.


• Client avoids eye contact and seems anxious, fearful, depressed, submissive, or paranoid.

• Client has unexplained bruises, cuts, or other signs of physical abuse.

• Client lacks health care or appears malnourished. 

• Client appears to be in a relationship with an older, dominating man.

• Client is never alone and not allowed to speak for herself. 

• Client has few personal possessions and/or is not in control of her own finances.

• Client owes a large debt she is unable to pay.

• Client is secretive or unable to answer questions about where she lives. 

• Client's story is inconsistent or seems scripted and rehearsed.

• Client lacks identification – license, passport, or other documents – or someone else holds it.

• Client is reluctant to schedule appointments.

• Client is new to the United States and speaks no English.

• Underage client provides commercial sex acts, or is in the commercial sex industry at any age and has a pimp/manager.

• Client has a tattoo – frequently with a crown in it – marking her as someone’s property.

• Client engages in sexual activity to meet basic needs (food, shelter, clothing).

• Client carries hotel room keys.

• Client is afraid of law enforcement or of receiving help from outside agencies.

• Client has run away from home or been kicked out due to complicated family dynamics.

Find more tips in the resource section.


• “Are you able to leave your job if you want to?”

• “Are you able to come and go from home as you please?”

• “Have you been threatened if you tried to leave? Has your family been threatened?”

• “Where did you get those bruises? Is anyone hurting you?”

• “Do you get paid for your employment? Is it a fair wage? How many hours per week do you work?”

• “How did you come to the U.S.? Is it what you expected? Are you being forced to do anything you don't want to do?”

• “Are you or your family being threatened?”

• “Do you live with or near your employer? Does your employer provide your housing? Are there locks on doors or windows from outside?”

• “Are you in debt to anyone?”

• “Who has your passport/ID?” 


• Ask if you can help her find a safe place to go immediately.

• Give her the national hotline number and the "BeFree" text number (233733)

• If she needs time, create an action plan with her so she can get to a safe place when ready.

• Make a report to the human trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or call 911.


Just one of the above signs may be enough to identify a client as a possible victim of trafficking, sexual assault, or other abuse. What then?

It's vital for PCCs to establish relationships with local organizations in that know the issue and know what to do. They may even be able to train your volunteers and staff.

Many of the values and modes of ministry that shape a PCC are conducive to working with victims and survivors of trafficking. For instance, Julia Koch of The Hope Project based in Muskegon, Michigan, says it's important to interview clients alone, separate from the person accompanying her who may be her trafficker. With most centers this is already standard practice.

Client advocates also know how to listen without judgment, which is important when dealing with trafficking victims. Julia recommends keeping a neutral face and remaining unshockable. Also avoid asking questions in a way that implies blame (questions beginning with "why?").

Julia advises meeting victims or survivors where they are. "We can't force her to take any action or accept help." PCCs understand they can only minister to a client or make a referral with her permission.

Volunteer advisers must recognize that women trapped in trafficking may not see themselves as victims. Julia says, "By admitting to being a victim of sex trafficking, she's giving away agency," which makes her more vulnerable. So keep in mind that a trafficking victim may not be ready to leave her situation. Much like victims of domestic violence, victims of sex trafficking may "walk away seven to nine times before they're finally 'done' and don't return to their traffickers."


Lederer and Wetzel, "The Health Consequences of Sex trafficking and Their Implications for Identifying Victims in Healthcare Facilities," Annals of Health Law, 2014, vol. 23, page 61.

National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 24/7 confidential hotline 1-888-373-7888

• U.S. Department of State – “Identify and Assist a Trafficking Victim”; “Addressing the Internal Wounds: The Psychological Aftermath of Human Trafficking”; “20 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking.”   

“How to Identify a Human Trafficking Victim,” U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

The Polaris Project - BeFree Textline: Text "BeFree" (233733)

• The Hope Project - based in West Michigan

• The Link Between Pornography, Sex Trafficking, and Abortion webcast, Family Research Council

• "I was sold to hundreds of men for sex. Then I got pregnant." Victim testimony,, accessed 12/16/15

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