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          Familial Trafficking 

Listen to our Survivor Advisors explain Familial Trafficking in Their Own Words

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Alicia Ley shares her comments with Freedom a la Cart's Voices of Freedom

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Jasmine Myers shares her comments with Freedom a la Cart's Voices of Freedom
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OpenForce interviews Liz Williamson

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Jennifer is interviewed by Celia Williamson on her Emancipation Nation podcast

During the first years talking to direct service providers in Appalachian Ohio we continued to hear that familial trafficking, or trafficking of a person by a family member (related by blood or law), was one of the more common types of trafficking. Particularly a family member offering access to a child in exchange for drugs or rent. This was supported by the 2022 study we did which showed that of the offenders that were identified, 27% were family members. The study was not a fully comprehensive assessment and we expect this percentage is greater. Because of this, we convened an advisory committee of survivors of familial trafficking.

They would like to share information that might help you better identify a situation where this might be happening. Please remember that there is no "stereotypical" scenario and each survivor's experience is unique, though they are generally trafficked at a much younger age. Because of this, there are feelings that the situation is their "normal." And even though they know something is not right, there are likely other parts of the family relationship that they like - vacations, etc. and many times they just would like the trafficking part of their abuse to stop.

This creates an untenable situation for a child. So though you will see some listings below, they are not exhaustive nor are they definitive of trafficking. Many are signs that simply should make you pay closer attention to a situation to determine if trafficking, abuse, neglect or maltreatment might be present. Most of all, the survivors would like you to BELIEVE CHILDREN when they try to reach out.



  • Substance abuse in family (particularly if there is not a clear way that they pay for it)

  • Parent or family member was trafficked for labor or sex or suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a family member (generational)

  • Evidence of neglect or abuse in the family

  • Unfortunately a survivor is just born into this family 



  • Not able to sit in class (or otherwise) due to injury

  • Drawing or writing about dark subjects or of a sexual nature

  • Frequent UTIs, STDs, scratching of crotch at a very young age

  • Reenacting abuse with toys

  • Watching or being shown porn at a very young age

  • Physical bruises, blood on clothing

  • Overt sexual behavior in public places/class

  • Frequent infections of the throat

  • Health issues no one can pinpoint - pelvic/GI pain

  • Picking at skin, pulling on hair, hitting oneself, self-harm

  • Wearing same clothes, wrong size, worn/dirty

  • Lack of basic hygiene

  • Exhibiting inappropriate behavior when photographed



  • Low self-esteem, easily overwhelmed

  • Unable to trust

  • Unable to concentrate/forgetful/sleeping in class

  • Unusually fearful or anxious

  • Startle responses to noises, bright lights, sudden movements

  • Terrified of getting into someone's car

  • Unable to cope with simple requests or tasks

  • Pushing others away who are safe/refusing attempts at comfort

  • Extremely shy, very withdrawn, "spaced-out" 

  • Terrified of getting into someone's car

  • Possibly suicidal 


  • No one is allowed in the house/isolated

  • Lack of understanding of one's changing body

  • Frequently with controlling person

  • School truancy but on the other hand over-reaction for not making perfect grades

  • Inconsistent adults picking child up from school

  • Parentification - having to take on adult responsibilities at an early age

  • Missing child reports not filed

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Click here for an additional list of warning signs from

Many times these individuals were labeled defiant, promiscuous, learning disabled, rebellious, a runaway, problem child, complicated, sensitive child. 

It is also not uncommon that individuals who are trying to spot trafficking are only looking for "strangers" or situations that might happen in a pimp-controlled environment, not a familial-controlled environment. 

Advice from our Survivors

Our survivors would like you to understand that prevention is key:

  • Youth should be educated at a young age to understand appropriate touch, how to identify body parts correctly (they need language to tell), healthy boundaries and relationships. High School is far too late. 

  • Child Service Workers should look further for trafficking anytime sexual abuse is present, particularly when family reunification is the preferred situation

  • Teach law enforcement what to look for

  • Teach self-esteem, self-worth and respect early for children

  • Teach how to have their own voice and that saying no is OK

  • Advocate for more funding for child serving agencies

  • Assistance should never be based on certain compliance, render assistance without expectations

  • Learn to spot needs but realize it is difficult with experiences running a spectrum of situations and places (many instances took place at church, school or other local residences)

  • Need a safe person to tell but the person needs to understand how to listen for nuances 

  • Look more closely at "betrayal trauma" and how this impacts a child's feelings

  • Never underestimate a survivor's desire to have the family they did not have

  • In a medical setting, create a space away from family member

  • Keep in mind children don't have the language to tell what is happening with them

But understand a young and even older child may not understand themselves what is happening. Most of the time they will not know there is an exchange for something of value taking place (a necessary element for human trafficking) before the abuse. Fraud, force and coercion also look different from the perspective of a young child. (And is also different from what many of us know as pimp-controlled trafficking)

It is also not unusual for an individual that is trafficked at an early age to not understand what has happened to them until they reach adulthood and are better able to process the memories. 

If you see signs of sexual assault or trafficking of a child, contact law enforcement, your local child protection services agency or contact 855-O-H-CHILD (855-642-4453). If you are a mandatory reporter, follow your protocol. It is important not to further traumatize a child but it is important to let the child know you care and that you will be there for them. The survivors remember people who were kind fondly - bus drivers that treated them like a person, school teachers who had a bowl of food on their desk they could take without asking.

Even if you are not in a position to identify a trafficking situation, you can be that safe person for a child that needs you. You have to care enough to learn enough about that child to understand something is wrong then open up the space and invite them to speak. They have to trust you before they will share. Be that safe adult for a child. 

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