General exploitation is treating a person unfairly to benefit from their work. Exploitation can involve the use of threats, manipulation, or force to get someone to do something they do not want to do for the benefit of another person. It can take many forms; it could look like an employer forcing an employee to work for little or no pay or it could look like a romantic partner threatening harm if their partner doesn’t perform sex acts for money, drugs, or a place to stay.
If you learn what exploitation looks like and how it starts, you can learn to say no and protect yourself and others.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of offers for jobs in fields that are typically hard to break into, such as modeling and acting, or offers in remote locations, faraway states, and foreign cities. Dangerous individuals may lure victims into isolation away from their friends and family.
Indicators of a false job promise could include:
- The payment and the job description do not seem to match (for example, a high hourly salary for a typically low-paying job).
- The employer does not request any information about your previous work experience.
- The employer asks for a photo of you as part of the application process.
- The employer asks a lot of personal questions about you that are not relevant to the potential job.
- The employer requests a substantial fee to cover the costs of uniforms or other expenses.
- The employer asks you to keep the job a secret or lie about your age.
Individuals looking to exploit others will use emotional, mental, and financial support to gain trust and build dependency in potential victims. Indicators of a potentially exploitative relationship include if your partner:
- Demands that you tell them where you are at all times.
- Makes you ask for permission to leave the home or to socialize with others.
- Limits your communication with friends, family, and loved ones.
- Threatens to hurt you or your loved ones if you don’t do what they say.
- Holds on to your identification cards, other personal documents, or money.
- Makes you feel unsafe to be around them.
- Provides you with financial support that requires you to ask for money when you need it.
- Makes you work at a job where you do not receive your own paycheck.
- Forces you to perform sex acts for them or others for money or in exchange for other items of value, like drugs.
Individuals looking to exploit others can gain access to potential victims online because they are not always aware of how dangerous online environments can be or how to keep themselves safe. They oftentimes actively stalk online meeting places, like social media sites, to lure their victims.
Below are several safety tips to keep in mind while online and using social media:
- Don’t share personal information (where you live, work, go to school, or details about your personal life).
- Set your profile to private so only your friends in real life can get access.
- Never accept a friend request from someone you don’t know in real life.
- Don’t share photos with anyone that you wouldn’t be comfortable with your parents, guardians, or friends seeing.
- If you do share a photo and someone uses it to threaten or blackmail you, you have options. Talk to a trusted adult about how to protect yourself or get help.
- If you plan to meet someone you met online in person, it should be in a public setting, like a restaurant or coffee shop, and let a trusted friend know who, where, and when you are meeting.
- Do your research on a job offer that seems too good to be true by reading reviews on company rating websites or reaching out to current or past employees to validate information about the job.
- If someone isn’t who they seem to be, or you think you are being lured into a potentially exploitative situation, tell a trusted adult. Reporting the person could help stop them from potentially exploiting other people.
- Trust your instincts! If something feels wrong about a conversation you are having with someone online, stop the conversation and block the profile.
Project iGuardian is an initiative by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations focused on keeping children and teens safe from online predators through education and awareness. For more resources such as additional safety tips and how to report suspected cybercrimes, visit https://www.ice.gov/topics/iGuardians.
For more information about online safety and how you can get help visit NetSmartz. You can report suspected child sex trafficking to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).
If you or someone you know is experiencing an exploitative situation and needs help, you can:
- Tell a trusted adult what is happening.
- Call 911 or local law enforcement if you or someone else is in immediate danger.
- Call 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733). The National Human Trafficking Hotline takes calls from victims and survivors of human trafficking and those who may know them. It can help connect victims with service providers in the area and assist in reporting their situation to trusted law enforcement contacts. The Trafficking Hotline is a national, toll-free hotline available to answer calls from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in English, Spanish, and more than 200 other languages. The Trafficking Hotline is not a law enforcement or immigration authority and is operated by a nongovernmental organization.
- Call 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) or go to Report.CyperTip.org to report suspected child sex trafficking, sextortion, online enticement, and sexual abuse material to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). NCMEC is a non-profit organization, available 24/7 to work with families, victims, private industry, law enforcement, and the public to support the identification, location, and recovery of child sex trafficking and child sexual exploitation victims. NCMEC also has online safety materials for parents and kids available at: https://www.missingkids.org/netsmartz and https://www.missingkids.org/netsmartz/intothecloud
- Call 1-866-347-2423 to report suspicious criminal activity to the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Tip Line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year. Highly trained specialists take reports from both the public and law enforcement agencies on more than 400 laws enforced by HSI, including those related to human trafficking. HSI agents responding to reports are specifically trained on a victim centered approach to stabilize victims and connect them with support services, including providing immigration relief for qualifying victims. You can also submit an anonymous tip online via the HSI Tip Form at: https://www.ice.gov/webform/hsi-tip-form.