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Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking

Hi everyone. As I've mentioned to some of you, I'm a law student in a seminar about domestic violence. This week's topic is the intersection of human trafficking and domestic violence, and the course readings got me thinking about dynamics that I personally would have never recognized as trafficking behavior.

Domestic violence can leave an individual more vulnerable to trafficking, since many traffickers market themselves as a quick way to earn much-needed money when a person is getting out of an abusive relationship. Other traffickers offer themselves as a safe space/new relationship for vulnerable individuals in (or recently out of) abusive situations. They then can exploit "payment" from those people in return for having been a safe space. Human trafficking victims/survivors are also more likely to end up in abusive relationships, as abusers often seek vulnerable individuals who are less likely to notice signs of potential abuse when they are trying to escape trafficking situations.


Additionally, relationships can combine domestic violence and human trafficking. This is where my mind was blown — once it was described, it seemed so obvious, but in such an insidious way that I don't know if I ever would have realized it was an intersection without help.

To begin, I'll go through some basics. If this seems obvious/familiar, please just skip down.


The key components of an intersectional DV/HT relationship are:

1. An intimate relationship with the abuser/trafficker

2. Labor, commercial sex, or involuntary servitude

3. Performed under force, fraud, or coercion, or if the victim/survivor was a minor


The word "trafficking" often has the connotation of movement across borders. However, trafficking occurs when an individual's freedom is curtailed and their labor is extracted against their consent, or with coerced consent. It's about exploitation, rather than movement, although movement is often a part of a trafficker/abuser's tactics.

Essentially, if a person is forced to work under threat of violence or other negative consequences from an intimate partner, family member, or co-resident, it is probably an intersection of human trafficking and domestic violence. The labor is for the benefit of a party other than the victim: one party materially benefits from the exploitation of another, which can include the exchange of anything of value. This can be food, drugs, goods, or labor. Often, the abuser/trafficker takes control of all the money or benefits, and the victim/survivor sees nothing from their work.


Here is where the insidiously obvious part comes in: The examples. These are things I would identify as domestic abuse, or human trafficking, but not necessarily both. I'm going to use male/female gendered language here, because advocates most often see female victims, but I do not intend to erase the experiences of male victims/survivors of domestic abuse and trafficking.

  • A woman gets married and is expected to do all of the housework. If she doesn't get everything done, her husband beats her.
  • A woman gets engaged, and her fiancee moves to the US. She follows and her fiancee tells her she will work for his friend's business. She never sees any money. Her fiancee says that if she doesn't keep working, he will let her visa lapse and send her home.
  • An underaged girl runs away from home and moves in with her boyfriend. After a few months, he tells her she owes him for living with him, and that she has to have sex with his friends to make up the money.
  • A woman moves cross-country to be with her boyfriend. She ends up working fourteen hour days for his business without pay, and he threatens to break up with her and leave her homeless if she complains.

Why is this important? Because there are special resources available to victims of human trafficking and victims of domestic violence separately, but because victims/survivors are often treated for one or the other, they don't necessarily get everything they deserve. There are different criminal consequences if the crimes are reported, which can put perpetrators away for a longer time. There are immigration options for undocumented workers, workers with visas, and immigrants seeking permanent residency. Most importantly, it's because we don't necessarily recognize these intersections (I didn't) and neither do many victims/survivors, and we should.

I don't know if this was the most articulate, but I feel like it's an important topic. Maybe it's a "Well, duh!" topic to everyone else. Regardless, I can provide links to other resources, if anyone would like.

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