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Personal Safety Planning for Victims and Survivors of Violence

Safety planning can include risk assessments, preparations, and contingency plans to increase the safety of a human trafficking victim or an individual at-risk for human trafficking, as well as any agency or individual assisting a victim. Safety plans:

  1. Assess the current risk and identify current and potential safety concerns;
  2. Create strategies for avoiding or reducing the threat of harm;
  3. Outline concrete options for responding when safety is threatened or compromised.

Safety planning is important while a victim is experiencing trafficking, during the process of leaving, and once the victim has left. Consider these tips for conducting safety planning with victims of human trafficking as well as those who may be considering suspicious jobs or relationships and may be at risk for human trafficking. We cannot guarantee an individual’s safety or the prevention of trafficking after using these suggestions. Each individual is in the best position to assess his/her own current level of safety and safety planning should be tailored to his/her unique circumstance.

The following scenarios might be red flags for relationships or jobs that may develop into human trafficking. One or more of these may indicate that an individual is at-risk for sex or labor trafficking. This list is not exhaustive.

The Intimate Partner or Employer:

  • Comes on very strongly and promises things that seem too good to be true – i.e. promises extremely high wages for easy work.
  • Expects that you will agree to the employment or relationship on the spot, and threatens that otherwise the opportunity will be lost.
  • Is unclear about the terms of employment, location of employment and/or the company details/credentials.  Partner/employer denies access to information about your rights.
  • Denies contact with friends or family or attempts to isolate you from your social network.
  • Constantly checks on you and does not allow you access to your money.
  • Asks you to do things outside of your comfort zone such as performing sexual favors for friends.
  • Displays signs/characteristics of a dangerous person including: attempts to control movement and behaviors, exhibits jealousy, lashes out or delivers punishment in response to noncompliance, is verbally/emotionally/physically abusive.
  • Uses threats or displays of violence to create a culture of fear.
  • Trust your judgment. If a situation/individual makes you uncomfortable, trust that feeling.
  • Let a trusted friend or relative know if you feel like you are in danger or if a person or situation is suspicious.
  • If possible, set up safety words with a trusted friend/relative.
    • One word can mean that it is safe to talk and you are alone.
    • A separate word can mean you are not safe.
      • It is also important to communicate what you would like done (cease communication immediately, call 9-1-1, meet somewhere to pick you up, etc.).
  • Keep all important documents and identification in your possession at all times. Your partner/employer does not have the right to take or hold your documents without your permission.
  • Keep important numbers on your person at all times, including the number of someone you feel safe contacting if you are in trouble.
  • Make sure that you have a means of communication (cell phone or phone card), access to your bank account, and any medication that you might need with you at all times.
  • If you think you might be in immediate danger or you are experiencing an emergency, contact 9-1-1 first.

Some employment opportunities may raise red flags for human trafficking. When considering new employment:

  • Request information about the position, scope of work, and hours/conditions of the position.
  • Do not provide personal information (address, SS#) to the employer if you do not feel comfortable.
  • If meeting with the employer, make sure a trusted friend/relative knows where you are going and what time you expect to return.
  • Plan to meet the employer in a public place where others are around.
  • Verify that the business is legitimate by asking for the Employer Identification Number (EIN). This information can be checked by calling the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) at (800) 829-4933 (for U.S. businesses only).
  • Ask to speak with former employees/clients about their experience with the company. This can be particularly important for positions abroad.
  • If the employment opportunity involves travel to another country, make sure you obtain the appropriate visa. Depending on the country and the nature of the employment, you or your employer may be responsible for securing the visa – make sure to check with the country’s regulations to confirm before accepting an offer.

Some jobs or relationships may involve travel to a different city, state, or country. When considering a suspicious travel opportunity, take the following additional steps to secure safety:

  • Request address information for employment and/or housing.
  • Request information about travel arrangements and who is expected to pay for travel and any visa or other entry fees.
  • Make copies of important documents for yourself and give some to a trusted friend or relative.
  • Have a ticket home in your name and keep it in a safe place.
  • Provide a trusted friend or relative with information about your travel arrangements.
  • Arrange a time to contact a trusted friend or relative to let them know you arrived safely.
  • Have access to a bank account and have a way to maintain control of your own funds.
  • Take a map of the city you are traveling to and make sure you know how to get from your residence to the bank, Embassy or Consulate (for international travel), police department, or hospital in case of emergency.
  • Know basic phrases in the local language.
  • Know how to access emergency services in that country. If there is an emergency number (equivalent to 9-1-1 in the U.S.), memorize this number or keep it in a safe place. Memorize the address and contact information for your Embassy or Consulate in that country.
  • U.S. citizens should visit the U.S. Department of State website for information on how to register their travel details with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP):
  • For U.S. citizens experiencing emergencies overseas, contact the local Embassy or Consulate, or the U.S. State Department Office of Overseas Citizen Services at 888-407-4747 (from the U.S. or Canada) or 202-501- 4444 (from overseas).

Some relationships with signs of abuse and control, as well as those with promises of a better life, may have the potential to develop into situations of human trafficking.

  • If your partner asks you to do things you are uncomfortable with (forceful sex or sex acts, videotaping sexual activity/nudity, engaging in commercial sex or sex acts with his/her friends/strangers, abusing drugs/alcohol, etc.), let your partner know that it makes you uncomfortable and inform a trusted friend or relative.
  • Make sure a trusted friend/relative knows where you are when with your partner, especially if you are traveling with this person or going to an unfamiliar location.
  • Maintain access to all of your documents (driver’s license, ID card, birth certificate, passport, or visa), your bank account, and all important phone numbers and do not provide this information to your partner if you do not feel comfortable.

In some cases, leaving or attempting to leave a trafficking situation may increase the risk of violence. It is important to trust your judgment when taking steps to ensure your safety.

  • If you are ever in immediate danger, the quickest way to access help is to call 9-1-1.
  • If you are unsure of your current location, try to determine any indication of your locality such as street signs outside the residence or place of employment, or newspapers/magazines/mail that may have the address listed.
    • If it is safe to go outside, see if the address is listed anywhere on the building.
    • If there are people nearby and it is safe to speak with them, ask them about your current location.
  • Plan an escape route or exit strategy and rehearse it
  • Keep any important documents on or near you to be ready for immediate departure.
  • Prepare a bag with any important documents/items and a change of clothes.
  • Keep a written copy of important numbers on you at all times in case your phone is taken or destroyed at any point. Memorize important numbers/hotlines
  • Think about your next steps after you leave the situation.
    • Contact trusted friends or relatives to notify them or to ask for assistance if you feel comfortable.
    • Contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline 24-hour hotline at 1-888-3737-888 to obtain local referrals for shelter or other social services and support. The Hotline can also connect you with specialized law enforcement referrals. However, if you are ever in immediate danger, contact 9-1-1 first.
  • During violent or explosive situations avoid dangerous rooms
    • Examples of Dangerous Rooms: kitchen (knives, sharp utensils, pots), garage (tools, sharp objects), bathroom (hard surfaces, no exits), basement (hard surfaces, no exits), rooms where weapons are kept and rooms without an exit.
    • Examples of Safer Rooms: front room, yard or apartment hallway where a neighbor might see or hear an incident.
  • Develop a special signal (lights flickering on and off, code word, code text message, hand signal, etc.) to use with a trusted neighbor, relative, friend or service provider to notify them that you are in danger.
    • It is important to proactively communicate what action steps you would like taken (call 9-1-1, check-in, pick the children up, etc.).
  • If you have children who are also in the trafficking situation, explain to them that it isn’t their responsibility to protect you, and make sure that they know how to call someone for help, where to hide during a violent incident, and practice your plan of departure with them.
  • Keep your residence locked at all times. Consider changing your locks if the controller has a key or may be able to access your residence.
  • If moving to a new residence, only disclose your address to people that you trust and consider accessing the Address Confidentiality Program (ACP).
  • Consider taking out a protective order against the controller so that he/she will be legally prohibited from contacting you.
    • While options vary by location, you can typically obtain a protective order civilly without talking to or involving law enforcement.
  • Contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888 to find the service provider nearest you that can assist you in long-term safety planning, including taking out a protective order or accessing the ACP in your state.
  • If the controller has made unwanted contact, document the contact made (calls, texts, showing up at your work/home, etc.) and save any voicemails and text messages that are threatening in nature.
  • Consider changing your phone number to a number unknown by the controller. Most cell phone carriers will allow you to block individuals or to change numbers at no or low cost.
  • Keep a cell phone or emergency phone on you at all times.  If you feel comfortable, tell your neighbors, employer, or friends to call the police if they see the controller near, in, or around the residence or you.
  • Develop a special signal (lights flickering on and off, code word, code text message, hand signal, etc.) to use with a trusted neighbor, relative, friend or service provider to notify them that you are in danger or need help. This can be the same safety signal used while exiting the situation or something new.
    • Be sure to communicate what action steps you would like taken if you use the signal (call 9-1-1, check-in, pick up your children, etc.).
  • If you have children who were also in the trafficking situation, create a safety plan with them making sure they know what do if the controller makes unwanted contact and how to call someone for help.
  • If your child still has ongoing contact with the controller, discuss a safety plan and how to keep themselves safe while with the controller.
  • Consider referencing this resource for information on rebuilding your finances after leaving a financially abusive relationship
  • Consider referencing this resource for information on address confidentiality programs by state

 When communicating with someone in a dangerous or potential trafficking situation:

  • Recognize that the person in the situation knows their situation best, and it is necessary to honor their requests to ensure their safety
  • Maintain open and nonjudgmental communication, ensuring they know they can reach out at any time, and end the call when they need to
  • Try to speak in person if possible
  • If that is not possible, try to speak on the phone first [rather than via text or social media messaging] and ask if the person is alone, and then use yes/no questions until they indicate it is safe to communicate more freely
  • If they are alone, try to establish safety words: one word to indicate it is safe to talk/the person is alone [for future communications] and one to indicate it is no longer safe to talk and what the person in the situation would like done [cease communication immediately/contact law enforcement/etc.]
  • Try to learn more about safety concerns
  • Try to learn more about their needs/wishes moving forward [reporting, shelter, counseling, legal services, etc.]

Article Source: National Human Trafficking Hotline; Polaris Project.