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Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking in California

Human trafficking is a crime that involves compelling or coercing a person to provide labor or services, or to engage in commercial sex acts. There is no single profile of a trafficking victim. Victims of human trafficking include not only men and women lured into forced labor by the promise of a better life in the United States, but also boys and girls who were born and raised here in California.


Trafficking victims come from diverse backgrounds in terms of race, color, national origin, disability, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, education level, and citizenship status, but one characteristic that they usually share is some form of vulnerability. Trafficking victims are often isolated from their families and social networks and, in some cases, are separated from their country of origin, native language, and culture. Many domestic victims of sex trafficking are runaway or homeless youth and/or come from backgrounds of sexual and physical abuse, incest, poverty, or addiction. Traffickers exploit these vulnerabilities, promising the victims love, a good job, or a more stable life.


California is one of the largest sites of human trafficking in the United States. In 2018, 1,656 cases of human trafficking were reported in California. Of those cases, 1,226 were sex trafficking cases, 151 were labor trafficking cases, 110 involved both labor and sex trafficking, and in 169 cases the type of trafficking was not specified.


The United States is widely regarded as a destination country for human trafficking. Federal reports have estimated that 14,500 to 17,500 victims are trafficked into the United States annually. This does not include the number of victims who are trafficked within the United States each year. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 10,949 cases of human trafficking were reported in the United States in 2018.

Warning Signs of Potential Human Trafficking

Image by Joseph Gonzalez
Image by Larry Farr
Image by Louis Hansel
  • Appearing malnourished

  • Showing signs of physical injuries and abuse

  • Avoiding eye contact, social interaction, and authority figures/law enforcement

  • Seeming to adhere to scripted or rehearsed responses in social interaction

  • Lacking official identification documents

  • Appearing destitute/lacking personal possessions

  • Working excessively long hours

  • Living at place of employment

  • Checking into hotels/motels with older males, and referring to those males as boyfriend or “daddy,” which is often street slang for pimp

  • Poor physical or dental health

  • Tattoos/ branding on the neck and/or lower back

  • Untreated sexually transmitted diseases

  • Small children serving in a family restaurant

  • Security measures that appear to keep people inside an establishment - barbed wire inside of a fence, bars covering the insides of windows

  • Not allowing people to go into public alone, or speak for themselves

Police Cars

If you believe someone is being trafficked for sex or exploitative labor, text “help” to 233733 or call 1-888-373-7888 or simply dial 9-1-1.

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