Analyzing The Personality Of Human Traffickers

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When the topic ‘human trafficking’ comes to mind, what are some thoughts that pop into peoples’ heads? Initially when hearing this, people may think or say statements similar to “Human traffickers are sick people,” or “I don’t see how someone has the nerve to do that,” but has anyone ever thought about asking the simple question why? The purpose of this research paper is to analyze the common traits, characteristics, and types of personality human traffickers have to develop a better understanding of how they see the world and why they traffic to begin with. Beginning with a break-down of what human-trafficking really means, the definition of human trafficking is: …the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt from persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. (Leidholdt, D. A., & Scully, K. P., p.27)

Looking at the commonalities in personality among human traffickers will give a better insight to why they do what they do. When analyzing personality, there is more to look at than just how the person behaves and the attitudes they have. Information about childhood, health, social life, motives for involvement, and characteristics/traits are also relevant factors that need to be taken into account because they can all have an impact on someone’s personality as well.

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The way children are raised throughout their life has a significant impact on the person they are and who they become. For example, if you compared a child that was raised in a violent and broken family to a child that was raised in a quite privileged and loving environment, it is more likely most of the time that the child who lived in the nicer environment is going to be more successful, less trouble-making, and so on. According to Rijken, Muraszkiewicz, & Ven (2015), there was a strong tendency in traffickers to protect or maintain close relationships with family members. Despite being close with family members, profound violence was also found in some families but not enough to generalize traffickers as coming from profound violent families. Concerning violence that did not come from family life, it was argued that traffickers usually had some type of victimization in their life before they got into the business of trafficking. Traffickers also often came from poor families with generally low education levels and lack of family stability and emotional attention impacting them as well. (Rijken et. al., 2015).


The health of an individual affects and impacts their personality, especially if mental illnesses or health conditions are involved. In the literature review from Rijken et. al., one study found that only 14% of human trafficking court/police files involved a psychological health problem while the other 47% did not (2015). For the complete file study, there was only 31 (9.3%) cases where human traffickers had some kind of psychological health problem while 114 (34.1%) cases did not involve any mental health issues. (Rijken et. al., 2015). It can be concluded that, for the most part, mental health illnesses or conditions were not a significant factor in human traffickers.

Social Life

Human traffickers were found to have very lively social circles, which is opposite of what many people believe. They have this because it gives them more power and ability to find future victims, meet new people, and engage in business with others. Traffickers are mostly outgoing and mingle with many people similar to them including the similarity factors of ethnicity, social and economic activity, culture, and religion. They often go to a lot of weekend events, clubs, and other social events. This expansive social network gives traffickers the opportunities to seek new business and pick possible new victims in plain sight (Rijken et. al., 2015).

Motives for Involvement

Surprisingly, the motives of why traffickers are involved with trafficking do not vary that much. Economic theories suggest that financial gain and the pursuit of profit, with money being a dominant main factor, are the main reasons why individuals become human traffickers. Other reasons related to the main motive of money include being successful and coming from a poor family. One last motive was “the enjoyment of power” given by a few traffickers themselves (Rijken et. al., 2015).

Personality and Characteristics

From the literature review of Rijken et. al., there was an interesting difference in the way traffickers described themselves versus how victims, experts, and the general society described them. When asked to describe themselves, traffickers replied with these characteristics: “Creative personality, honest, fair, strict and orderly, communicative, positive, conscientious, naïve, a good man, helpful, respectful, trustworthy, intelligence, sense of humor, and a man of principle,” (2015). On the contrary, other individuals responded with these characteristics: “arrogant, rude, inhumane, manipulative, street-smart, soft spoken, sly, ruthless, addicted to power, charming, sociable… selfish, calculating, refined, self-confident, aggressive, intimidating, lack of or defective and disturbed morality, strong sexual desire,” (Rijken et. al., 2015). Many things can be concluded from the difference between these two lists including the assumption that traffickers do not believe that what they are participating in is a crime or a wrongdoing. This distorted thinking may have developed from a lack of morality, poor upbringing, and other factors.

When interviewed, 50 experts and traffickers themselves gave common psychological personality characteristics for human traffickers including, “limited empathy… paranoia, pleasure in violence, sexually obsessed, narcissistic, over confident, severe aggression, lack of morality, lack of conscience,” (Rijken et. al., 2015). Traffickers also have in common the character traits of, “bossy, dictatorial, egocentric, authoritarian personalities who dominate and control their victims… showing no remorse, guilt, or regrets… in need for sensation and action… addicted to the way of life as trafficker and/or criminal,” (Rijken et. al., 2015). It is concluded from the trace report that human traffickers are often labeled with “narcissists” or “anti-social personality” by experts and society because they are associated with similar descriptions of that trait (Rijken et. al., 2015).

Analyzing Research using Personality Methods

Now that we have substantial reliable information about the personality and common traits of human traffickers, we can use this information to analyze their personality through personality methods from past psychologists to get a better understanding of human traffickers’ common personality types.

Lew Goldberg and The Big Five

Starting with work from Lew Goldberg, the “Big Five” can be used to look at the common personality of human traffickers and where they would be in terms of each trait cluster in the big five. The first trait, neuroticism, would likely be relatively low in someone who is a human trafficker because they display most of the lower traits of calmness, unemotional, and hardy but excluding even-tempered because it was found that traffickers are often aggressive or angered easily. The second trait, extroversion, would likely be higher as they would often carry the traits of excitement seeking, assertiveness, high activity level, and gregariousness; low levels would involve traits of being reserved, quiet, and lonely, which would not match the traits of a trafficker because most of the time they have lively social circles and are very involved with many social events.

The third trait, openness to experience, is correlated with factors such as education, intelligence, intellectual absorption, and aesthetic interests. For this reason, I believe that traffickers would likely have relatively low levels of this because they would often carry the traits of being conventional, preferring routine, and uncreativeness as opposed to high fantasies, feelings, and aesthetics in higher levels of that trait. The fourth trait, agreeableness, would likely be significantly low in traffickers because the traits for low levels include aggression, ruthlessness, and suspiciousness; high levels have traits that deal with being kind, modest, trust, and altruism, which does not reflect on a common trafficker’s personality. The fifth and last trait, conscientiousness, is likely higher in traffickers because high levels include characteristics of dutifulness, order, deliberation, and achievement striving, which can be seen in traffickers when they carry out their jobs (Seals, 2019).


The D.I.S.C., created by William Marston, can also be a beneficial way to score the common trafficker’s personality type. According to the above research about traffickers, I believe that traffickers would have a significantly high D (dominance) personality style. General characteristics of the D personality that can also be seen in traffickers are direct, dominant, risk takers, bottom line organizers, prefer to lead or be in charge, tend to overstep authority, enjoy power and authority, and craves control. With that being said, other areas of the D personality do not accurately line up with some of the traffickers’ common traits. Some traits that are associated with a D personality but are not commonly seen in traffickers are disliking repetition and routine, ignoring details, and fear of being taken advantage of (DISC Theory and DISC Personality Traits).

I do not believe traffickers would have a high I (influence) personality at all, if any. The characteristics and traits of someone with an I personality does not agree with the common personality we see in human traffickers for the most part. People with a high I personality fear rejection, are talkative, emotional, optimistic, motivators, have a good sense of humor, etc. None of these traits line up with a trafficker’s common personality. The only trait that would be present in a trafficker from the I personality style would be persuasive as they use persuasiveness as a tactic to lure victims into their line of work (DISC Theory and DISC Personality Traits).

The S (steadiness) personality style has few areas that agree with a trafficker’s personality and more areas that disagree, so traffickers may not have a high S personality. The S personality traits that are also commonly seen in traffickers include being friendly (in their social life), like patterns or repetition, and are very generous, possessive, and open with loved ones. Other traits in the S personality, including being predictable, avoiding conflict, being grounded, being loyal, and being even-tempered, do not reflect a trafficker’s personality (DISC Theory and DISC Personality Traits).

I believe that traffickers would have a relatively average to somewhat high C (conscientiousness) personality. Traits that are included in a C personality type are accuracy, precise, paying attention to detail, systematic thinking, realistic thinking, doesn’t stray from order, organized, and “do it yourself” managers. These are characteristics that agree with common personality of traffickers because most of the time they have to have these in order to carry out and accomplish their given job without running into any trouble. The traits in a C personality that are not seen in traffickers are being passive, avoiding conflict, avoiding confrontation, and fearing criticism (DISC Theory and DISC Personality Traits).


In conclusion, looking at the psychology of personality can give us explanations and reasoning behind personality characteristics, traits, and styles. Personality is not solely influenced by an individual’s genetics but can also be altered or changed based on different factors of life. Specifically looking at the personality of human traffickers, factors such as childhood, health, social life, motives, traits, and characteristics are important to review because they can determine who the individual becomes throughout their life. By comparing all of these factors, finding commonalities within them, and analyzing them with different personality methods, we have basic assumptions about the human trafficker’s most common personality. We also have explanations and reasoning for why this personality occurs and how it develops.


  1. DISC Theory and DISC Personality Traits. (n.d.). Retrieved November 25, 2019, from
  2. Leidholdt, D. A., & Scully, K. P. (n.d.). PDF.
  3. Rijken, C., Muraszkiewicz, J., & Ven, P. (2015). Trace: Trafficking as A Criminal Enterprise. TRACE: Trafficking as A Criminal Enterprise. Retrieved from
  4. Seals, R. J. (2019). The Big 5 [PowerPoint slides]. (Accessed: 25 November 2019.)
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