As Human Trafficking Surges, Multifamily Has a Role in the Solution

Human trafficking is a global tragedy and a $99-million-a-year criminal enterprise in the nation with only about 1% of victims currently being rescued

If you know or suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 (TTY: 711) or SMS text 233733.

By Stephanie Anderson

Human trafficking is a global tragedy and a $99-million-a-year criminal enterprise in the nation with only about 1% of victims currently being rescued, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. With January being National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, educating every employee in a company is critical to identifying potential victims and increasing the rescue rate. As an industry, we need to familiarize ourselves and take advantage of all of the available multifamily-focused resources, including Human Trafficking Truths: A Guide to Saving Lives in Your Community, in order to raise awareness and bring an end to a grave issue that harms tens of millions.

The COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions slowed down human trafficking cases. Unfortunately, during this time, traffickers took advantage of the situation by sharpening their skills at utilizing the Internet to lure their victims, including the creation of fake job ads. As a result, the number of victims has increased to around 27 million from an estimate of 21 million in 2022, according to the 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report by the U.S. Department of State. Furthermore, the report also notes a five-fold increase in the identification of male victims.

Human trafficking can sometimes be difficult to spot since victims might appear to be shy or standoffish, while others interact normally with those around them. However, there are often cues that indicate trafficking could be taking place in a community that might seem innocuous at first. A child who seems shy. A woman in the house who is not allowed to drive. A person who speaks for everyone. They might seem harmless individually but put together, they may point to trouble. It’s important for onsite teams to know the signs of trafficking and create a plan of action for the situation. Here are some starting points to help multifamily associates start to identify a potential human trafficking case, along with next steps.

Signs of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking has no boundaries and schemes target people of any socioeconomic, religious, cultural, or ethnic background. Traffickers are present in urban, suburban and rural areas, but favor places that have vulnerable populations, such as multifamily properties, public housing and homeless shelters. Recognizing the key indicators of human trafficking is the first step in identifying victims. Onsite teams need to be aware of the signs of human trafficking and pay particular attention to situations where multiple signs are present.

Living Situation

People involved in human trafficking don’t have typical living habits. If onsite team members are able to view the apartment home, they may witness items present or an interior setup that should cause concern.

 Too many people living in one apartment

  • Interior locks on doors and windows designed to keep people in, not out
  • Abnormal living conditions such as multiple mattresses on the floor of a single room

Actions and Activity

In addition to an atypical living situation, human trafficking comes with activities that will be out of the norm. Child sex trafficking and adult sex trafficking may have numerous visitors to a single apartment. Labor trafficking might have a group of people on a set schedule.

  • Frequent visitors to an apartment with short visits of 15 to 45 minutes at a time
  • People who are picked up and then brought back later at around the same time daily
  • A prospect wants details regarding security cameras on the property
  • The potential resident requests an apartment that looks over the parking lot
  • A person who is often in the company of someone they defer to or who controls their behavior, such as where they go or who they talk to
  • Someone who does not have access to their own personal documents
  • An adult who is not allowed to drive or travel alone

Behavioral Cues

The behavior of a person can reveal them as a victim of human trafficking, but it can be difficult to tell. Victims may be withdrawn or very social but will always remain silent about their situation. Their behavior could also be mistaken for shyness or other causes.

  • A prospect or resident who is anxious if law enforcement is present or mentioned
  • Someone who seems to be coached on what to say and sound like they’re following a script
  • Someone who appears fearful, timid, submissive or avoids eye contact
  • Someone who is disoriented or confused
  • A person who shows signs of mental or physical abuse or signs of being denied food, water, sleep or medical care
  • Someone who lacks knowledge of the neighborhood or city they are in
  • Someone who has someone else to speak for them and doesn’t appear to know the person they are with

What to Do Next

If human trafficking is suspected in a community, there are steps to take to address it. Property management professionals should not put themselves in harm’s way or confront anyone if human trafficking is suspected. While calling the police might seem like an ideal option, victims are usually conditioned to fear law enforcement and told they will be arrested also. Instead, suspicious activity should be reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 (TTY: 711) or SMS text 233733. This organization has the resources to assist and an understanding of victims, especially how to gain their trust and rescue them. They also understand better when it’s time to get law enforcement involved. If your company has a policy in place, you should follow your company protocol or speak to your direct supervisor.

Grace Hill is proud to offer a course on human trafficking, which has been taken by more than 100,000 multifamily professionals. It provides an in-depth look into the topic, including how it affects our industry and how apartment owners and operators can respond to suspected human trafficking situations.

About the author

Stephanie Anderson is Senior Director of Communication and Social Media for Grace Hill. She is an advocate for the implementation of human trafficking policy and access to resources for the real estate community. Stephanie is a certified Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) instructor, as well as a member of the National Apartment Association Operations Committee and NAA’s Mental Health Committee.

About Grace Hill

Grace Hill provides industry-leading SaaS technology solutions designed to make a positive impact in real estate and improve the lives of people where they work and live. Harnessing years of real estate experience and the understanding that people are better together, Grace Hill helps owners and operators increase property performance, reduce operating risk and grow top talent. More than 500,000 professionals from over 1,700 companies rely on Grace Hill’s talent performance solutions covering policy, training, assessment, survey, and data-driven insights. Visit us at or on LinkedIn.

Human trafficking is a global tragedy and a $99-million-a-year criminal enterprise in the nation with only about 1% of victims currently being rescued

The Importance of Human-Trafficking Knowledge for On-Site Teams

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