Recognize the signs

Victimization looks different for each young person. Vulnerable young people come from every race, gender, and sexuality, and they may not even realize they are in need of support. Because vulnerabilities are driven by economic insecurity and social isolation, LGBTQ+, Black and Brown, and youth from low wealth communities are most likely to experience violence and abuse. The good news is, by working towards systems change we can stop the cycle of abuse, and with the right guidance and services, victimized youth can become successful adults with bright futures.

Many circumstances put young people at a great risk of being victimized, and there are often red flags that may indicate someone is a victim of youth exploitation or abuse.

Risk factors

Circumstances that make trauma-exposed youth more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse include:

  • A marginalized sexual, gender, or racial identity
  • Social and familial discrimination or rejection
  • Lack of stability at home
  • Poverty
  • Homelessness
  • Repeat runaway history
  • A history of sexual or physical abuse
  • Emotional or mental trauma
  • Exposure to drug abuse or violence at home
  • A desire or obligation to help their family make ends meet
  • Lack of adequate employment opportunities

Did you know?

of homeless youth have experienced one or more forms of human trafficking in their lifetime
of homeless youth have experienced at least two adverse childhood experiences — on average, our clients experience three
of homeless youth reported system involvement, including being in foster care or arrested
Source: 2018 Atlanta Youth Count!

Warning signs and red flags

Warning signs and indicators exist in all areas of the abuse continuum, including:

General human trafficking

  • Shares a scripted or inconsistent history
  • Evidence of controlling or dominating relationships
  • Demonstrates fearful or nervous behavior
  • Is unwilling or hesitant to answer questions about injury or illness

Sex trafficking

  • Person is under the age of 18 and involved in the commercial sex industry
  • Reports an unusually high number of sexual partners

Labor trafficking

  • Has been abused at work or threatened with harm by an employer or supervisor
  • Is not allowed to take adequate breaks, food, or water while at work
  • Was recruited for different work than they're currently doing
  • Has a debt to employer or recruiter that he/she cannot pay off

Mental health

  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Self harming behaviors
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD
  • Nightmares
  • Feelings of shame or guilt
  • Emotional or physical numbness

Social or developmental

  • Increased engagement in high risk behaviors, such as running away or early sexual initiation of a minor
  • Trauma bonding with trafficker or other victims
  • Difficulty establishing or maintaining healthy relationships
  • Impaired social skills

Physical health

  • Signs of physical abuse or unexplained injuries
  • Neurological conditions (traumatic brain injury, headaches or migraines, unexplained memory loss, insomnia, difficulty concentrating)
  • Substance use disorders
  • Frequent STIs or genital trauma

Know someone who might need help?

youthSpark is here to help direct you to, and determine which valuable resources are best for your situation. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you know someone that might need help.

youthSpark’s early intervention and sexual exploitation line 404.612.4628

It’s important to note that youthSpark isn’t a 24-hour facility and doesn’t provide residential services. If you need assistance helping a vulnerable child after hours, please contact:

National Human Trafficking Hotline 888.373.7888 or text HELP to 233733

I wanted my child to come home no matter what it took. She needed to know that she had family who loved her.”

– Mrs. Smith, Mom