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A Scan of the Field: Introducing the human trafficking report case studies

Thursday, January 17th, 2019

The following information is part of the Case Studies Findings that were published in A Scan of the Field: Learning About Serving Survivors of Human Trafficking, a report published by Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network’s research team. Part of that report is being published here in recognition that January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. 

Case studies used semi-structured interviews with key informants within each selected organization and an analysis of organizational material (including intake documents, marketing materials, and program evaluations) pertinent
to service provision for survivors of trafficking. All key informants consented to participate and interviews were audio recorded and transcribed.

Researchers then identified common themes across case study organizations. The five organizations selected for the case study included three domestic/sexual violence organizations, one refugee resettlement agency, and one legal aid organization. All worked with trafficking survivors.

The organizations represent diverse locations across the United States, including Florida, Washington, Minnesota, California, and New Jersey. The organizations serve a mix of labor and sex trafficking survivors with some organizations working more heavily with one type of trafficking and provide a diversity of services (such as legal services, refugee resettlement, hotline services, etc.).

What are “lessons learned” from organizations that serve survivors of human trafficking

Overwhelmingly the five organizations reported that organizational development was needed in order to better serve human trafficking survivors.

Through thematic analysis of in-depth interviews and organizational materials from each case study organization, the following “lessons learned” emerged:

• understanding the nuances of human trafficking and intersecting forms of violence is critical;

• organizational development is necessary to adapt to the needs of survivors;

• cultural and linguistic responsiveness is key.

Understanding the nuances of human trafficking and intersecting forms of violence is critical

A profound lesson learned in reviewing organizational materials and through individual interviews was the importance of understanding how complicated the intersections between the various forms of violence are and can become when working with survivors of human trafficking. Understanding and identifying the nuances of human trafficking is critical to best respond to the needs of survivors and promote healing.

Human trafficking cases often occurred within intimate relationships, such as between spouses and significant others. Many of these cases of intersecting domestic/sexual violence and trafficking involved sex trafficking of minors through prostitution, for instance, by an older “boyfriend.”

“[S]he was a victim of sex trafficking. And it was by a boyfriend, and, a so-called boyfriend, and he was 21 at the time and she was 16.”

Human trafficking cases within intimate relationships also took the form of labor trafficking. One case described a scenario where an initial mutual partnership in a restaurant using the wife’s (survivor’s) savings led to a potential labor trafficking situation when the wife was not compensated for her financial and labor contributions by her husband (trafficker).

“So [the survivor] would be working all day at the restaurant and come home and do everything in the house, and then there was domestic violence. A lot of sexual abuse as well… [T]hey were together for seven years and she never saw a dime out of that restaurant. And he kept saying, ‘You know this is for us. This is for our future. This is our restaurant.’ ”

One organization spoke at length about the complexity of international marriages and how they create unique trafficking situations. The organization noted that many cases were difficult to identify given the presence of domestic violence or sexual violence patterns. In some instances, survivors met prospective partners online, formed online relationships, and agreed to marriage proposals. When they arrived to the United States and married the partners, the situation quickly shifted into one of abuse. However, as the survivors offered more details of the situations they experienced, the elements of domestic servitude became clear.

“We have a lot of situations of domestic servitude, where women are brought from another country and either through an arranged marriage or they meet online or some type of scenario like that, and the woman comes from oversees, she gets married here, she’s promised a certain kind of life, and she comes here and she’s used as a domestic servant. Either the man was already married or he has his girlfriend on the side, and he is using her to take care of his kids and clean the house, and help run his business. And then some of these cases, it’s very clear that the
person is being treated as a servant. You know, they are forced to sleep in the garage. Their passport is taken away. It’s very clear that that person was brought here with the intention of being made into a servant. Like they’re not treated like a spouse at all.”

To read more case studies and to see how organizations serve human trafficking survivors nationally, click here to access the full report. 

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