Warning Signs

red flag Warning signs include:

  • Physical and sexual violence signs of abuse, such as: unexplained bruises, black eyes, cuts, or marks. 
  • Exhibit behaviors including fear, anxiety, depression, submission, tension, and/or nervousness.
  • Exhibit “hyper-vigilance” or paranoid behavior.
  • Sexually exploited children and youth often express interest in, or are in relationships with, adults or older men.
  • Evidence of controlling or dominating relationships, including: repeated phone calls from a “boyfriend” and/or excessive concern about displeasing partner.
  • Unexplained shopping trips or possession of expensive clothing, jewelry, or a cell phone could indicate the manipulation of an exploiter. 
  • Not in control of their own money.
  • Use of lingo or slang from “the life” among peers, or referring to a boyfriend as “Daddy.” 
  • Secrecy about whereabouts.
  • Unaccounted for time, vagueness concerning whereabouts, and/or defensiveness in response to questions or concern.
  • Keeping late-night or unusual hours.
  • A tattoo that he or she is reluctant to explain may the result of tattooing or branding by a pimp. Pimps and other sexual exploiters often tattoo or brand children and youth, particularly girls.  Youth are commonly branded with their exploiter’s name tattooed on the neck, chest, or arms.
  • Wearing sexually provocative clothing can be an indicator of sexual exploitation.  But it should be noted, so as not to rely on stereotypes, that not all children in the commercial sex industry wear such clothing. Sexually provocative clothing is not a warning sign in and of itself.  Wearing new clothes of any style, or getting hair or nails done with no financial means to this independently, is a more general indicator of potential sexual exploitation.
  • Most sexually exploited children have been trained to lie about their age.  Sometimes a child’s appearance and/or actions can contradict the information they give.  Be sensitive to clues in behavior or appearance that could indicate that a child is underage. 
  • Personal information such as: age, name, and/or date of birth – might change with each telling of his or her story, or the information given might contradict itself.
  • Has no identification or is not in control of his or her identification documents.