How Survivor Stories Bolster the Fight Against Human Trafficking

Welcome to RDC Insider Insights. This monthly series covers a multitude of modern-day financial crimes. We’ve analyzed our global datasets to understand how certain types of crimes and risks are changing over time, both globally and in regional splits, to uncover trends and provide insights. This month, in honor of Human Trafficking Awareness Month, we share this, the second in our multi-part series on human trafficking. The first post discussed the $150 billion criminal industry and explained recent jumps in human trafficking captures. 

Prosecuting a hidden crime

Prosecutors find it difficult to prove human trafficking, as court cases often turn into “he said, she said” stories. Complicating the process is a lack of awareness; in the general public, in the institutions tasked with stopping and/or flagging related crimes, and in victims themselves. Many survivors do not self-identify as human trafficking victims, so the crimes go unreported. Survivors also choose not to report the crime due to embarrassment, cultural barriers (such as a lack of knowledge about their rights), and even fear that they will be prosecuted or deported for their participation in illegal acts.

Advances in modern slavery policies and laws have increased efforts to promote cooperation with law enforcement, but the path for those that do report their trafficking experience is not always easy. Many survivors often seek help from law enforcement only to be met with disbelief, and some are even asked to continue their sex work in the interrogation rooms by corrupt law enforcers.

Many perpetrators are eventually prosecuted through tax and money laundering crimes, as those are easier to prove. By examining survivors’ stories and correlating them to various RDC risk codes, we can see how survivors’ voices enhance the capabilities of institutions to fight modern slavery.

There is no single face to a modern slave

No single trait renders one person more vulnerable to human trafficking than another. That said, there tend to be more women trafficked than men and there is increasing discussion around LGBTQ trafficking. Additional factors, such as economic difficulties, homelessness, foster situations, or immigration status, are more highly correlated with trafficked victims. In short, we are all vulnerable. Perceptions of trafficked victims based on race, ethnicity, gender or class are greater reflections of societal values than they are determinants of becoming a slave.

Dr. Nissi Hamilton, CEO of “A Survivor’s Voice of Victory,” is a disruptor, a political activist, a Navy veteran, a sexual abuse counselor, and a survivor of human trafficking. A Houston native, she was trafficked in her own neighborhood at the age of 14. She was homeless, living in a box behind a Walmart when she was coerced into servitude by a “Romeo pimp”—someone who draws a victim into slavery with a perceived relationship. Over the course of five years, she estimates she was traded for sex 4-6,000 times.

Timea Nagy, a trafficking survivor. While living in her home country of Hungary, answered an ad to babysit in Canada for extra money. After spending hours stopped in the Canadian airport, the authorities explained to her that her story did not match her papers, and that she was flown there to be a sex worker. Without any other ties in the foreign nation, authorities handed her over to her traffickers who had posted the misleading advertisement and falsified her paperwork. Timea later understood what it meant to be an unaware victim of human trafficking, but it took an escape from Canada, then fleeing Hungary after her traffickers followed her back, and a newspaper story that detailed her exact situation and labeled it “human trafficking” before she fully understood her own story. Through an introduction to the power financial institutions told to stop criminals, and organizations like ACFCS, Timea has been able to translate her tragic human trafficking experience into knowledge that identifies trafficking red flags.

Both Timea and Nissi continue to offer their time and resources to empower victims to come forward, spread awareness to law enforcement and workplaces alike, and fight for bold, effective policies that address modern slavery globally.

Geography does – and doesn’t – matter

Concentrations of human trafficking happen in certain geographies near borders or in metropolitan areas, where laws are lax. That said, trafficking can occur anywhere. Houston, where Dr. Nissi Hamilton was enslaved, and Toronto, where Timea Nagy was enslaved, are both in the top 10 global cities for TRF events.

bar chart of cities in order by human trafficking captures

Figure 1: Top 10 cities with TRF code captures.

Warning Signs of Trafficking in the Real World

In prosecuting crimes related to human trafficking, the public system tends to criminalize the victim, sometimes the supplier, but rarely the buyer. While we cannot profile one type of victim, we can profile both the pimps and the consumer. Below we have listed some common signals/red flags of human trafficking that both survivors and bystanders have shared to bring light to this global cause.

For victims
Pimps listen to their victims to establish a sense of trust. Victims always pay and get paid in cash. They never pay their taxes. They have late nights with unspecified whereabouts. They party a lot. They might be trafficking in drugs—and victims of human trafficking are disposable to all types of crime. In Nissi’s case, she was the “handler.” If they had been caught, she was the one holding the drugs, and therefore the one who would have been considered responsible. As for Timea, she was kept as a sex trafficking victim through fear of leaving; her traffickers would often tell her horror stories about other victims that tried to escape. Traffickers tell stories of others being beaten and left for dead, or sexually abused, and the victims’ mindsets are ultimately controlled by the trafficker. These patterns are why it is so critical that RDC and others offer a platform for survivors and their stories to be recognized by financial institutions tracing transactions.

Spotting a victim
There are often signs – subtle or not – to spot a victim of modern slavery in daily life. And though this crime appears in virtually all global industries, there are some more prone to it, but any business can be a front for human trafficking. For example,  shelters should be particularly vigilant to signs of slavery. Sometimes pimps release girls to the shelter to recruit more women. Still, as Polaris states, “It’s not knowing the signs – it’s knowing the story.” By identifying common threads in survivors’ stories, financial institutions can start to break down these complex crimes.

What can financial institutions do?

Beyond identifying the signs above, financial institutions are in a critical position to support survivors and capture trafficking organizations.

There is a broad scope of crimes associated with trafficking organizations and ongoing monitoring with adverse media can alert institutions when someone in their portfolio is accused or convicted of these related crimes.

Figure 2 Crimes most associated with modern slavery.


Beyond identifying the signs, following the money can fill in details a victim wouldn’t know and provides the all-important transaction evidence. According to the Association of Certified Financial Crime Specialists (ACFCS), the following are potential red flags that could alert for human trafficking:

  • Financial activity such as multiple employees being paid into a single account
  • Wage receipt followed by rapid withdrawal or onward transfer into single accounts
  • Unusual behavior inside of the bank, such as individuals avoiding cashiers or regularly depositing cash using branch automated machines
  • No living expense transactions

This fight requires improved human trafficking legislation, and informed citizens, but thanks to Timea’s and Nissi’s stories – and those they collect as survivors’ advocates – we know the combination of behavior tracking and risk codes can be a powerful force in ending modern slavery. Ultimately, sharing information between institutions, government agencies, survivors and anti-human trafficking organizations can only help better tackle this global issue.

RDC extends its gratitude to Dr. Nissi Hamilton, a survivor of human trafficking, a Navy veteran, and an advocate, for sharing her story, and for fighting on the frontlines to end modern slavery. She is an outspoken force in her community and as a support system for fellow survivors. 

These organizations can provide more information on human trafficking awareness:




Nissi Hamilton partner


RDC partner


RDC partner


RDC partner Timea Nagy’s Foundation
National Human Trafficking Resource Center 1.888.3737.888.