Human traffickers may be branding their victims with tattoos to assert their “ownership” over those who they are trafficking, according to a newly released report. The victims have reportedly been marked with bar code or number tattoos, in order to show that the women were over 18, said the report from the National Crime Agency, The Independent reports. The NCA said that it had received information that people who were victims of human traffickers had been branded with tattoos including numbers, but the exact meaning of the numbers is not yet clear.
“Put very simply, you brand cattle. And that’s how traffickers view people, as a commodity to buy and sell,” United Kingdom Human Trafficking Center Head Liam Vernon said. One woman from Romania was reportedly branded wth a bar code, as well as an amount of money, which investigators suspect was the amount of money that the woman would need to earn before she would be released. The NCA said that victims were told by traffickers that they would have to raise amounts as large as $64,000 before they would regain their freedom.
The NCA also said in their report that fake job postings, social media sites, and online dating services were used to lure victims into trafficking. These digital methods led to a 22 percent increase in trafficking in 2013 compared to 2012. Ashley Anderson, who works with Wellhouse, an organization that rescues those victimized by human traffickers, said that one of the easiest ways to identify a potential victim of human trafficking is to see a tattoo that appears to be a brand, according to WBRC. “We had a young lady who had his name tattooed on her face, arms, legs. That was a way to show she belonged to him,” said Anderson. Other signs that Anderson said to look for are physical bruises on the victim’s body, or a refusal to make eye contact with other people.
“Getting them to reach out for help is huge and unfortunately they have such an unhealthy relationship with their trafficker and may not want to leave that situation,” Anderson added. The U.S. State Department says that there are 600,000 to 800,000 people trafficked across borders each year, according to DoSomething.org. Of those, 80 percent are female, and half are children. According to some estimates, up to 80 percent of human trafficking involves sexual exploitation, while 19 percent of trafficking is forced labor.