top of page
  • Writer's pictureNatasha Patiño

Human Trafficking- Recognizing the Signs and Understanding the Facts

Hi everyone! Natasha here again to talk about a major struggle that affects our Upstate home.

Human Trafficking is often referred to as modern day slavery, with it being defined as “the illegal trade in human beings through recruitment or abduction by means of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of forced labor, debt bondage, or sexual exploitation.” (Safe Horizon | Human Trafficking Statistics & Facts). Basically, it’s a multi-billion-dollar business, where they force victims to provide commercial sex and/or forced labor through psychological, sexual or physical conditions.

In 2020, nationally there were 10,593 cases of human trafficking reported (Hotline Statistics | National Human Trafficking Hotline), and 51,667 contacts made which is when someone reached out for information or services. In South Carolina, the number of contacts more than doubled from 2016 where there were 346 contacts, to 769 in 2020. And these are only the ones that reached out, so you can imagine how much more there must be. My hope with this blog, is to help you all learn more things about what human trafficking is (and is not), so you can be aware of the signs and maybe help a potential victim.

Myths vs Facts

Below are some myths when it comes to human trafficking, as well as examples to help highlight what human trafficking looks like.

MYTH 1: “Human trafficking is human smuggling, where victims are forced into illegal border crossings.”

FACT: There does NOT need to be any transportation or movements. Victims can be trafficked from their own homes, still go to school and be in society.

MYTH 2: “Victims are trafficked only by strangers.”

FACT: Most victims usually are trafficking by people they know, not strangers. Often it

can be boyfriends/partners, spouses, and even family members.

MYTH 3: “The victim is making a choice to stay.”

FACT: The reason they stay can be very complicated, and it’s not that easy to leave. The reason could be fear of being deported, fear of being homeless, fear of safety, fear of losing their child, fear of basic necessities, and more.

MYTH 4: “It’s only human trafficking if it’s a violent crime.”

FACT: It does NOT need to be a violent crime to count as trafficking. Threats, manipulation, tricking, defrauding are some of the other ways the perpetrators control the victim to stay in these situations.

Examples of Human Trafficking

o A young 13-year-old female, has a 20-something older ‘boyfriend’ that is so ‘loving’ and romantic, buying her new things and being so sweet to her. He makes her feel special. She goes to school during the day and sneaks out for a ‘date’ with him one night. Now he says she owes him for all the money he’s spent on her and takes her to be sexually trafficked at a party. He takes her home afterwards, and the cycle continues.

o Cases where children and adolescents are forced to wear sexually provocative clothing and filmed by ‘trusted’ family members.

o Someone emigrates to the US with false promises from a friend/family member, for a better life, good job, stable home. They willingly come with false hopes. They could be getting paid very little for long hours of work in dangerous (illegal) work conditions, to then having to pay an unreasonable amount of rent so they cannot get out of that situation (labor trafficking).

o The same immigrant being forced to stay in situation, due to threats of immigration being called and/or perpetrator holding onto important immigration documents.

o Fear of perpetrators harming loved ones is a major one, even if loved ones are in a different state/country. This could be a trafficked woman, not knowing her rights as a mother, being forced to stay with spouse (perpetrator), because he threatens that if she leaves, he will take their son.


The Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Trafficking (ICESAHT) (, which is nationally recognized, identified the top 5 risk factors, with the rest being collected with various other websites. These can make a person more susceptible to human trafficking:

1. Recent migration/relocation

2. Substance use

3. Runaway/homeless youth

4. Mental health concerns

5. Involvement in the child welfare system

6. Unstable living situation

7. Have previously experienced some type of sexual abuse or domestic violence

8. Undocumented immigrants

9. Has a caregiver or family member who has a substance use issue

Recognizing the Signs

Pimp, managers, boyfriends, guardian…whatever term you want to use for the perpetrator, finds ways to control, isolate, and manipulate the victim. STILL, there are signs that we can look out for, to help us identify a potential victim. Here are some below:

- Having a controlling partner/manager/etc. that has complete control over the victim. Often this can look like the perpetrator controlling their spending, controlling their phones, not allowing them to see/interact even with loved ones, controlling where they go, monitoring their movements.

- When talking with someone else, the victim appears to have someone listening or monitoring what they are talking about.

- Living and/or working in conditions that are very isolated, where they are cut off from other support systems.

- Drastic changes in behavior, such as skipping school often when they did not before, grades dropping, isolation, being tired all the time (due to being out at night).

- Not having control of their important documents, like passports.

- Feeling really pressured with their boss/manager to stay in a situation with their job, that they want to leave.

- Being threatened by their boss with being deported or harmed.

Services Needed to Help Victims Escape

When helping victims of human trafficking, it’s important to note that their perpetrator has manipulated this person so much, that it is hard to trust others or even speak up. As someone trying to help, it’s important to remember that we need to be patient, not judge, and find ways to help support that individual in getting out. Here are some key services that are needed, to help survivors that were laid out on

Key Services Needed

  • Basic needs (medical attention, toiletries, clothing, etc.)

  • Legal representation (including immigration, victim defendant representation, and family law services)

  • Emergency shelter and transitional housing

  • Victim advocacy

  • Safe community connections

  • Life skills, educational, vocational training

  • Ongoing culturally sensitive support to deal with the effects of trauma (i.e., therapy, counseling, case management, mentorship)

  • English language lessons

  • Interpretation

  • Long-term housing/placement

  • Immigration and visa services (including law enforcement certification for U & T visas, and Continued Presence (CP)

After looking at this list, consider ways that you could help even just one victim. I have one bilingual client that is retired, that volunteers her time to translate for those in need, whether it’s at a clinic, lawyer, and more. I have others that volunteer and/or make donations for organizations like Switch and Safe Harbor. I have friends, like myself, that do pro bono counseling services for these victims. There are many ways we could help support our community! <3

The message I am trying to highlight here, is to take time to be there for those around you, especially those that may be at risk. Maybe it’s a neighbor, you daughter’s friend at school, an extended family member. Please don’t stay quiet if you see something suspicious. Below are some resources that can help you if you have suspicions. One person can make a difference! As Paul Shane Spear once said….

“As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person.”

I hope that after this blog, you have a better understanding of what human trafficking looks like, the red flags, how you can do your part.

Remember we are all together in this thing we call life, our companions in healing!!

Until next time,

[ I want to give a thank you to a good friend of mine and fellow therapist, Erin Kornahrens (Our Team – Canterbury Counseling) for consulting with me for this blog. She is an expert in human trafficking, with her being the Clinical Director of Switch Nonprofit for five years. ]


National Human Trafficking Hotline (South Carolina | National Human Trafficking Hotline)

This is the national hotline, if you believe someone is a victim of human trafficking. Please check out this website, because they have a lot of great information, and you can click ‘en español’ to read the info in Spanish.

Call: 888-373-7888. Text: BeFree (233733) (Text “HELP” or “INFO”)

Switch Nonprofit Organization (SWITCH (

Switch’s focus is solely on human trafficking prevention and is in our Upstate community. They help provide the survivors with a safe space, connect them to resources, and help them navigate the many challenges that come with trying to leave this lifestyle. I have seen the work they do to help with human trafficking survivors and it’s powerful. They have a lot of great resources and connections. Follow them on Instagram: @Switch4216.

Safe Harbor is an amazing program, that focuses on victims of domestic violence. This organization can help victims with emergency shelters, transitional housing, counseling, support groups, dating violence prevention, and more. Even though they do not specialize with human trafficking, they often can be a resource and have services to help the individual get out of dangerous situation. I have so much respect for this organization!

Local Sheriff’s Office

If you have any concerns or suspicions of human trafficking, please reach out to your local sheriff’s office. If the possible victim is at a local high school, for example, reach out to the school resource office. It’s better to report your concerns and let the professionals investigate.


Green sun half-04_edited_edited_edited.png
Green sun half-04_edited_edited_edited.png
Green sun half-04_edited_edited_edited.png
Green sun half-04_edited_edited_edited.png
Green sun half-04_edited_edited_edited.png

How can I leave a comment on your blog posts?

Not accepting comments on my blog was a tough choice. I want my readers to be able to interact and feel like a part of a community. However, comments are hard to regulate, and not everyone makes comments with the feelings of others in mind. Comments can be triggering or upsetting for some readers, and that doesn’t serve my mission of creating a safe space to learn.

If you read one of my posts and have feedback, an important question, or a story to share, please send me a message here. I would be happy to reply to you directly, and perhaps even share our conversation as a blog post, with your permission. Don’t forget to subscribe here. It’s free!

bottom of page