22+ Warning Signs of Sex Trafficking, according to Houston Non-Profit Elijah Rising

22+ Warning Signs of Sex Trafficking, according to Houston Non-Profit Elijah Rising
Image designed by Ana Garcia

Regardless of what you think about the controversial movie Sound of Freedom, it has brought attention to the international problem of human trafficking.

The movie focuses on sex trafficking in Colombia. But if you’re from southwest Houston, trafficking is likely happening in or near your neighborhood. It’s often invisible, but you’re more likely to spot it if you know the warning signs.

Until recently, the problem was more visible. For years, the Bissonnet Track (a street loop located between 59 and the Sam Houston Tollway) has been a locally infamous destination for pimps, johns, and traffickers. Until a recent police blockade, large numbers of prostitutes walked the streets in broad daylight.

Not all were victims of trafficking, but many were.

Thanks to the police blockade, open prostitution is no longer inundating the neighborhood. But that doesn’t mean that human trafficking is gone in southwest Houston. It does mean that it will be harder to spot.

Human trafficking can happen to adults and children, both male and female, who are being exploited sexually or simply for their labor. Sex trafficking is only one form.

In real life, fighting sex trafficking is not usually as flashy as in Sound of Freedom. But you can do your part by watching for the warning signs below.

If you see someone displaying one or more of these signs, it does not necessarily mean that they are being trafficked. But if a strong warning sign—or a cluster of smaller warning signs—leads you to believe that someone is being trafficked, you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 to leave a tip.

For comparison, it may be helpful to think of the standards for reporting sexual abuse. In my (Korsmo’s) line of work as a teacher, I’m required to report if I suspect that a student is being sexually abused. Rather than investigating the issue myself, I am ordered to tip off the proper authorities and let them handle the rest. My suspicions may be right, or they may be wrong. But if I keep them to myself, I may be enabling abuse.

We shouldn't enable trafficking, either.

This list of warning signs is provided by Elijah Rising, a Christian anti-trafficking non-profit that has frequently conducted street outreach to prostitutes and trafficking victims on the Bissonnet Track. The staff were not available for a full interview, but David Gamboa, the organization's communications director, sent a lengthy email. We’ve reprinted it in part below.

Portion of Email from Elijah Rising

[The warning signs of trafficking] can be different for each type of trafficking and for each individual, depending on their specific circumstances.

Warning Signs of Sex Trafficking - Someone You Know:

  • Sudden or gradual changes in behavior

o Detached

o Isolated

  • Separates from family and close friends (anyone who will talk sense/truth to her)

o Depressed

o Loss of interest in activities they enjoyed in the past

o Drop in grades (if in school)

o Drops out of high school or college

o Sudden weight loss or gain

o Unwilling to talk about the changes you see

  • Something feels off about their “explanation”
  • Is in possession of luxury items they cannot afford

o “Gifts from a friend”

  • Has time unaccounted for

o Spending time with friends you don’t know

o Inconsistencies in their account of their time

  • Overly sexual

o For age

o Certain situations

o Inappropriate/flirty

o Sexual dress

  • Secretive about

o Social media

o Email

o Text messages

o Friends

  • New tattoos they can’t explain (not always present) - may have another person's name or symbol tattooed on them which could be a branding mark from their trafficker.

Warning Signs of Sex Trafficking - Anyone

  • Must be excessively accountable to a guardian, older boyfriend/girlfriend

o Not allowed to speak with anyone if guardian/boyfriend/girlfriend is not present

o Movement is monitored

o Phone, text, and online conversations are monitored

  • Branded: tattoo with distinguishing markings and/or their trafficker’s name.

o Often resists talking about it or makes up a story about it that seems off.

  • Is not in possession of their identification documents. Documents being “held” by someone other than them or their parents and they do not have access to them.

o Driver’s license

o Social Security card

o Birth certificate

  • Unable to give answers for their schedule, home life, work life, living conditions, age, place of birth/hometown, family

o Inconsistencies with their story

o Gives a “street name”

  • Is in possession of multiple phones, phone numbers, and social media accounts for no apparent reason
  • In possession of multiple hotel/apartment keys
  • Carries weapons
  • Signs of unusual wealth without having a job but has little to no say-so in how money is used, must ask permission to spend money he/she makes, and/or does not have access to money.

o Luxury items they cannot afford

o Money to spend

o Car paid for in cash

o A great deal of money is spent on sexually oriented clothing and items

  • Does not have access to money (traffickers control it)
  • Is unable to give an account about where they work or where they live
  • Does not know their way around the community in which they live
  • Their “Life story” is inconsistent and contradictory
  • Is living in a hotel or where they work
  • Shows signs of abuse

o Bruises

o Cuts

o Burns

o Submissiveness

o Sleep deprivation

o Malnourishment

o Repeated illness


§ Sexually Transmitted Diseases

§ Cold and flu (being run down)

o Fearful

o Depressed

o Anxious

o Alcohol and/or drug abuse

o Mental illness

o Drug/alcohol addiction

  • Has a pimp, but sometimes called other names:

o Boyfriend/girlfriend

o “Daddy”

o “Folks”

o “Manager” (often used by pimps themselves)

  • Inappropriate dress

For more on how to fight local human trafficking, see our interview with a member of another local anti-trafficking organization, the Landing:

How to Fight Human Trafficking: Q&A with Shani Bacy, Chief Program Officer at The Landing
As of Wednesday night (8/3), HPD’s blockade continues to reduce open-air prostitution on the Bissonnet Track to near zero. But the fight against human trafficking in southwest Houston isn’t over. In 2016, researchers at UT Austin estimated that there were 313,000 victims of human trafficking in


Tyess Korsmo, the Sharpener's editor-in-chief, moved to Sharpstown in 2019 to earn his Master of Liberal Arts at HCU, where he now teaches English and history. He also teaches English in a maximum-security prison.

Kace’ Conaway is a legal studies major at Houston Christian University. She has always had a deep love for writing and is grateful for the opportunity to share that love with the Sharpener and its readers. She hopes her work will have a positive impact on campus and in the Sharpstown community.