Using Scientific DNA Analysis to Fight Human Trafficking

As human trafficking awareness becomes more widespread, more agencies and organizations are stepping up their game with a more scientific approach to studying and advancing the fight against this widespread issue. By using rapid DNA technology, the goal is to identify and locate perpetrators quicker and with more accuracy.  

For those who do not know the technical definition of human trafficking:

hu·man traf·fick·ing


noun: human trafficking

  1. the unlawful act of transporting or coercing people in order to benefit from their work or service, typically in the form of forced labor or sexual exploitation.

But for those that would like a deeper understanding of what human trafficking looks like, this explanation from provides an expansive definition.

“Perceptions of human trafficking often involve women forced into prostitution. This is just one aspect of human trafficking. Survivors of trafficking also include men and children, and these survivors are exploited by any number of means. Victims may be forced into any of the following types of labor, among others:

   • domestic servitude

   • agricultural work

   • manufacturing

   • janitorial services

   • hotel services

   • construction

   • health and elder care

   • hair and nail salons

   • prostitution

   • strip club dancing

Some survivors are “mail-order” brides who believe they are going to a new country for marriage, but instead are enslaved. All nationalities and ethnic groups are vulnerable to human trafficking. Any given country may be a source of forced labor, a place of transit, or a destination.”

Now that we know what human trafficking and its many forms are, how prevalent is it really? In every major city there is some form, if not multiple forms, of it happening. Your local nail salon, warehouse and even hotels can be hosts to this very real issue. Many are usually surprised to learn that it happens right under their noses.

As we have progressed in spreading awareness, more city and state governments are creating ways to deter and eliminate accessibility to human trafficking as well as organizations in the private sector stepping up in their own way.

In the transportation industry, we have Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) which is an organization that aims to fight trafficking with boots on the ground and teams up with local officials and law enforcement as well. With many carriers, large and small, becoming members or utilizing the resources TAT provides, drivers and companies are trained to recognize the signs of trafficking, stay on top of latest developments and how to handle a situation where they may be witnessing trafficking or suspect a trafficked individual may need help.

Break through studies and trials

Let us to run through how the process would work in a real-world application. One of the biggest warning signs of trafficking and a quick way to stop it in its tracks is at border crossings. When a supposed family is crossing the border a DNA tech company, Bode, has teamed up with US DHS (Department of Homeland Security) and claims that their process will help catch those in the act:

“One of the newest tools supporting these efforts in the US and around the world is “Rapid DNA”, a cutting-edge DNA technology already being used by many law enforcement agencies for quick human identification in fighting a range of crimes. Rapid DNA can help combat child trafficking in particular by quickly confirming the veracity when someone claims to be a parent of a child. Verifying authentic parent–child relationships while identifying fraudulent claims can help increase arrests, prosecutions, and convictions of traffickers, as well as minimize the need for victim testimony during legal proceedings.” –

Though this is just a first in the offense for the fight against human trafficking. These types of testing will assist with a few on the more longstanding issues in stopping human trafficking altogether. Some of them being:

1) Inability to accurately determine the number of current victims of TIP, and the number of victims who have passed in and out of trafficking for a variety of reasons.

2) Inability to positively identify victims due to inadequate missing persons databases.

3) Difficulty in tracking the movement of victims from one location to another both within and across national boundaries.

4) Difficulty in identifying individuals engaged in human trafficking and/or the sex trade.

5) Need for a reliable method to identify recruitment and transportation patterns; that is to identify key routes of trafficking victims and perpetrators.

6) Need for procedures to collect physical evidence that will be beneficial in the identification of individuals participating in the sex trafficking trade.

7) Lack of resources available to analyze physical evidence for prosecution or other governmental actions.

8) Lag time between acquiring biological evidence and obtaining STR profiles.

9) Need to leverage the identification of perpetrators involved in human trafficking to lead to their arrest and prosecution as well as raising public awareness and improving government programs for the prevention of TIP.

10) Need to minimize further trauma to victims as a result of prosecution and reducing the chances of acquittal from victim refusal to testify by utilizing DNA analysis and other investigative methods as key components of the prosecution.

A simple case study showed promise for the future of this method used at the border:

“A 23-year-old male claimed to be traveling with his 5-year-old son and presented a counterfeit birth certificate. Agents noticed discrepancies and questioned the validity of the document. A rapid DNA test revealed that the subjects were not related. After being presented with the DNA evidence, the subject admitted that he was not the child’s father and instead claimed to be the boyfriend of the child’s mother, but he could not recall her complete name or contact information. He also admitted to utilizing the fraudulent document in an attempt to be released into the US as a ‘family unit.’”

As mentioned above, these methods could serve as interventions earlier in the cycle of human trafficking and get closer to ending it at the source. We are likely far away from abolishing human trafficking in the U.S. entirely but now, more than ever, nationwide people are seeing the realities of this crime. With more awareness comes more research, efforts and solutions so we are closer than we were last month, last year, last decade. The key is to continue on and participate in part of the solution.

How can you help?

The first thing you can do is recognize that there is a problem. It exists and you are likely closer to it than you realize.

Next is the be aware of red flags. Depending on your line of work there are many things that could give off the notion something is not right. We encourage you to visit this link and educate yourself (don’t worry it’s a quick read and could change someone’s life!). Below is a high-level list of things to look out for:

·        Lots of traffic (different cars and typically men) coming in and out of one residence or business

·        If you approach a residence or business, pay attention to what you’re hearing … is there any shouting taking place? Are threats being made? Do you hear anyone asking for help?

·        Pay attention to any potential victims that may be visible. Do you see anyone who looks distressed or upset, crying or fearful?

·        If a passenger vehicle pulls into the truck parking area of a rest area or truck stop and multiple people (usually females) get out of the vehicle and begin going from truck to truck.

·        Someone that appears to have restricted or controlled communication or is unable to speak for her/himself.

Once you have read up on all the different kinds of red flags, what action should you take?

Depending on the situation, there are two things that you can do. If you believe you are witnessing an act in person, call 911 immediately and offer all the details you can on what is happening in order to get appropriate law enforcement to the location right away. Then you can call the Nation Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. If you are taking record of noticeable red flags and believe that something may be going on that doesn’t sit well but are not quite sure, you can call the hotline first and let them know of the situation and they will guide you from there.

Be sure to not approach a potential trafficker on your own, you can be a hero just by making a few phone calls.

Most the time if you are traveling and are at a truck stop or rest stop, alert a manager or security patrol on duty of what you think may be going on and they will help assess the situation.

To learn more about TAT, visit their website here.

Meadow Lark is proud to be a Gold Level Sponsor of TAT and offer training and resources to both personnel and drivers.

Looking to join a team that walks the walk and holds takes their values seriously? Call (866) 736 - 5233



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