Human Trafficking and Public Transportation

Published on: November 27, 2020

Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery affecting victims worldwide, including in the U.S. Traffickers use all modes of transportation to conduct their activities and often use public transit due to its low cost, greater anonymity, and less direct interaction with government or transit officials, according to the FTA, which launched its Human Trafficking Awareness and Public Safety Initiative in 2019.

Every transit agency, no matter how large or small, should committed to training employees to recognize and report suspected human trafficking. The most effective way to do this is to have a policy and protocols that allow front-line employees —the eyes and ears of the community —the opportunity to see something and say something. While you should not ask an employee to step in and “rescue,” employees should be trained and comfortable reporting suspicious behavior based on red flags, the same way they are already doing with suspicious packages or unruly passenger behavior.

All reporting of human trafficking incidents should be reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline (888) 373-7888, or to 911 if there is imminent danger.

What can a transit agency do to help eliminate human trafficking?

  1. Transit systems should partner with local law enforcement and agencies that provide assistance to victims and survivors.
  2. Transit systems should train front-line staff of the Red Flag indicators of human trafficking, provided later in this article.
  3. Transit systems should get connected with the state attorney general’s office for national and state-specific information on human trafficking.

Red Flag Indicators of Human Trafficking

  • Passengers who are not allowed to speak for self.
  • Passengers who are not in possession of their own bus/rail pass, money, or ID.
  • Disheveled appearance, agitated, scared/crying, or showing signs of abuse.
  • Minors traveling without adult supervision.
  • Minors traveling during the school day.
  • Offers to exchange sex for a ride, meal, etc.
  • Does not know the person who purchased their bus/rail pass or is meeting them at the stop.
  • Any acknowledgement of having a pimp or needing to make a quota.
  • An individual who indicates they are being held against their will.
  • Signs of branding or tattooing (often of a trafficker’s name or nickname).
  • Individuals who work excessively long hours and are provided few or no breaks and/or who have indicated their employer is withholding pay.
  • Signs of bedding in odd locations (i.e. back room of a convenience store).

The National Rural Transit Assistance Program (NRTAP) offers the Busing on the Lookout Human Trafficking training course available on the NRTAP eLearning platform. This training helps front-line staff learn the signs of trafficking and how to help. The course contains a documentary video, a red flags video and other resources for transit staff. Participants can take an assessment and receive a certificate of completion. The training can be accessed through the NRTAP website at:

This article was published in the RTAP September 2020 newsletter, published by RLS & Associates.

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