Addiction and Human Trafficking [What You Need to Know]

Human trafficking is a terrible injustice that continues to be perpetrated not only in the United States but all over the world. As malicious individuals seek to meet the demand of illegal sexual encounters, they search out the vulnerable to exploit.

This is where addiction comes into play. Addiction and human trafficking are often connected. Men and women who are addicted to drugs are more vulnerable to being trafficked. Where they once had a support system of family and friends, they may have none. Addiction and the behavior that comes with it provide a surefire path to burning bridges. The relationships an individual has with their families and friends are ruined either quickly or over time.

Once bridges are burned, people are left out in the open, completely isolated. This gives the perfect opportunity for these malicious people to step in and offer to be of “support.” Slowly, the trafficker will groom and manipulate the victim into doing what they want. One way in which traffickers coerce these vulnerable individuals is by taking advantage of their addiction. Withdrawal symptoms often become a source of leverage.

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What is Human Trafficking?

First, it is essential to understand what human trafficking is. For some, the definition might be clear, but it’s critically important for everyone to understand fully. You see, some people are being trafficked right now who have no idea that it’s happening to them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sex trafficking under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 is “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for a commercial sex act.”

Human trafficking makes victims of both adults and minors. Any commercial sexual activity with children qualifies as trafficking, while for adults, the term entails the use of force or leverage, sometimes coercion or fraud. Whatever the method, it involves compelling individuals to engage in commercial sexual activity, thus amounts to a form of slavery. There are very few legal exceptions made when it comes to this horrible system. Taking advantage of another human being in this way is punishable by a potential life sentence in prison.

However, some are more insidious and deceptive with their trafficking methods. Some individuals befriend and manipulate vulnerable victims and push them to the point where they believe that they are making their own decision to engage in sexual activities for money or drugs. Oftentimes, these individuals are not even given the money that they are earning.


More on Sex Trafficking and Drug Addiction

Sex trafficking and drug addiction are intertwined because traffickers often target vulnerable people addicted to a substance. Drugs become a form of coercion or leverage. According to the 2017 Federal Human Trafficking Report, “traffickers supply a victim with addictive substances and use the victim’s fear of withdrawal symptoms to compel them to engage in commercial sex.”

By using withdrawal symptoms as leverage, traffickers can easily frighten, manipulate, and control their victims. From the sex trafficking cases reviewed in 2017, about 34% involved vulnerable drug addicts used in sex trafficking with their captors using drugs to maintain power. This is a reality that most people are unaware of. When this occurs, the person being trafficked is essentially exploited to the max. The abusers and traffickers realize that there is an easy string to pull to get the desired behavior.

If you or someone you know is being exploited in this way, you can call or text the Human Trafficking Hotline 24 hours a day 7 days a week! This hotline is designed to help people escape human trafficking situations safely.

The hotline is available in over 200 languages!

CALL: 1(888)373-7888

TEXT: 233733 (Text “HELP” or “INFO)

Dr. Hanni Stoklosa’s Mission to Help Human Trafficking Victims

Dr. Hanni Stoklosa spoke to the Health and Human Services task force in 2016 about preventing and ending human trafficking. Her speech is transcribed in an article from the Administration for Children and Familiesunder the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In her speech, she spoke about her experiences, including a situation where she observed a vulnerable drug addict used in sex trafficking. Specifically, she talked about a woman who was 20 years old who entered her emergency facility.

In addition, she said the woman was “hooked on heroin and was being discharged from a detox facility when she met a man who promised to provide a consistent supply of heroin. She was locked in a motel room in Rhode Island, forced to service over 200 men. When she finally escaped, her first stop was my emergency department. She came to my hospital to escape trafficking.”

Dr. Stoklosa believes that more than 50% of trafficking victims are just like this woman addicted to heroin or other opioids. The use of opioids to control sex trafficking victims is widespread.

This is also why seeking treatment for opioid addiction is essential, as it may lead down a long and dark road.


Who are the Victims?

The Polaris Project, formed in 2002, is a non-government, non-profit organization that has been working to prevent human trafficking. The project collects data from sex trafficking hotlines and can determine patterns, potential threats, and statistics surrounding drug abuse and human trafficking.

According to their statistics,

From January 1, 2015, through June 30, 2017, Polaris recorded 2,238 potential victims of human trafficking who had drug use induced or exploited as a means of control in their trafficking situation.

In the same time frame, Polaris recorded 926 potential victims of human trafficking who had a substance abuse issue before the possible trafficking, many of whom had this vulnerability exploited by their traffickers. Twenty-six of those were recruited into their trafficking situation directly from drug rehabilitation centers.
Of more than 2200 potential victims recorded during this period, 543 of them were minors. Their captors used their drug problems against them. Meanwhile, over 1800 of the potential victims were women, both adult and underage. It is important to note that these statistics only come from people who have called hotlines or explained their hospitals’ situations.

It is crucial to know the risks and connections between human trafficking and drug abuse to protect yourself, your family, and others. There are warning signs that can point to a potential human trafficking situation. Knowing these warning signs can be vital for you and your family.

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How to Spot Human Trafficking

There are ways you can recognize a potential human trafficking situation in your day-to-day life. Drug abuse and human trafficking throw red flags that someone paying attention can spot through observation or conversation.

According to an article called “Recognizing Sex Trafficking” from the Polaris Project, for instance, someone may be a victim of sex trafficking if they:

  • Want to stop participating in selling or trading sex but feel scared or unable to leave.
  • Disclose that they were reluctant to engage in selling sex but that someone pressured them into it.
  • Live where they work or have guards transport them between home and workplace.
  • They are children who live with or depend on a family member with a substance abuse problem.
  • Have a pimp or manager in the sex trade. This is a person they consistently report to.
  • Work in an industry where they may feel pressure to perform sex acts for money, such as a strip club, illicit cantina, go-go bar, or illegal business massage.
  • Have an older or controlling parent, guardian, romantic partner, or “sponsor” who will not allow you to meet or speak with the person alone or monitor their movements, spending, and communications.

If you know anyone who has shown any of these warning signs, call authorities immediately. It is better to be cautious and aware of these potential situations than ignore them. Furthermore, if you know someone addicted to cocaine, heroin, or any illegal substance, they could be at risk of exploitation. Addiction is a powerful disease that can overtake someone’s judgment, decision-making, and behaviors. Call us before it gets too severe. We can help your loved one, family member, or friend get the treatment and therapies they need to heal.

Additionally, information geared towards those in the trucking can be found about human trafficking on The article is geared towards spotting human trafficking as a CDL truck driver on their routes.


Human Trafficking Signs for Healthcare Providers

Health care providers come into contact with sex trafficking victims more than they realize. Most of the time, they seek treatment for their drug addiction, PTSD, or depression due to the horrific experience they went through. But they don’t always tell medical professionals that part of the story. Sometimes the victims in question are still under their traffickers’ control during their visit. This means health care providers are in a unique position to be aware of the symptoms and signals of potential sex trafficking victims.  

A health care provider might notice a patient with: 

  • Reproductive or sexual health concerns and potential signs of sexual violence while reporting an unusually high number of partners. 
  • Apparent fear of answering questions about the injury or illness. 
  • An accompanying individual who does not let the patient speak for themselves refuses to let the patient have privacy or interprets them. 

Moreover, the biggest of these red flags is the patient accompanied by a person who doesn’t let them speak or be alone. If the individual becomes hostile after you insist the patient needs privacy, you may be encountering a human trafficking situation. And if you are a health care provider, it is vital to be conscious of these suspicious situations. This way, you are in a better position to provide immediate help to keep the patient safe. 


Getting Out of a Human Trafficking Situation

If you find yourself in a situation where you are being trafficked, there is a way out. You can call or text the human trafficking hotline. This hotline has specialists on the other line that will help you develop a safe plan to get out, or they will contact the authorities to get you out of the situation. Do not give up and do not despair. Once you are free you can start the road to healing through therapy and support.

Medically Reviewed by:

Dr. Patricia Sullivan MD MPH
on 6/2/2021


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