It could be happening right under your nose — but if you don’t know what to look for, another child or another woman could be on their way to a life in servitude or as a sex slave.

It’s called human trafficking and it is one of the nation’s fastest-growing crimes — a $32 billion a year business that puts no value on human life and whose shadowy consumers lack a moral compass. In Connecticut, its youngest victim is 2 years old.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month and law enforcement agencies throughout the United States reinforced their efforts and broadened their eyes by training people who might have direct contact with those who are being trafficked. Similar efforts are underway worldwide. Sex/human trafficking is defined by the state as when a person compels or induces another person to engage in sexual contact by means of force, threat of force, fraud or coercion.

Here in Greater New Haven, hotel and motel owners and managers recently gathered at Gateway Community College to be coached on how to recognize the warning signs of human trafficking that might be taking place on their premises. Signs include pornography rentals in rooms where children are staying, children arriving for an extended stay in a room with very few possessions, and children who appear to be disoriented, confused, or unable to speak for themselves.

The training was held as part of a state law enacted in October 2015 that requires lodgers to participate in awareness trainings and post information about human trafficking on their premises as an ongoing effort to prevent and end human trafficking in the state. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called the training “the boldest step of any state in the nation.”

Bold steps are needed because the numbers are staggering.

Each year, anywhere from 800,000 to 900,00 people worldwide are dealt and traded like commodities across international borders, according to the Salvation Army’s program on human trafficking called “Stop It.” Here in the United States, it is estimated that between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked annually. About 80 percent of them are women and children. From 2007 to 2015, one-third of the human trafficking victims identified in the United States were minors and just over half were U.S. citizens, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

And more disturbing, every 40 seconds a child goes missing or is abducted.

In 2015, Tammy Sneed, director of girls’ services at the state Department of Children and Families, said the department received more than 80 referrals of possible victims of human trafficking in the state in 2014 and she predicted referrals in 2016 would surpass 2015’s total of 94. According to DCF’s Human Ant-Trafficking Response Team, the official number for the state in 2016 was 201 unique referrals of potential minor victims.

But the state has not sat back. Connecticut has initiatives already in place and lawmakers are implementing new strategies to further strengthen the barriers against slave trade. The creation of the Connecticut Human Trafficking Task Force has had success. The office has prosecuted 28 cases against sex traffickers and has brought cases against five suspected individuals. And working under the philosophy that without ‘buyers’ to purchase sex, there would be no sex-for-pay industry, the state’s Trafficking in Persons Council recently announced its new “End Demand” campaign, which puts more emphasis on the “john” buying sex. There are at least 2,000 buyers in the state, based on reports the agency has heard from child victims — some claiming they served between 10 and 15 customers a night.

With sex trafficking of minors referrals continuing to rise, law enforcement is right in evolving their defenses and training extra sets of eyes in places where traffickers and their victims will more than likely appear.

We, the people, are the victims’ defense team — and their only defense — against stopping this underground caravan of sex trafficking. Let’s stay alert, know and recognize the signs. Maybe you can change a woman’s or child’s life.