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Rescued Domestic Servitude Slave Jonalyn From the PhilippinesRescued domestic servitude slave Jonalyn from the Philippines tells her story.

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Domestic workers perform work within their employers’ households, and provide services such as cooking, cleaning, child care, elder care, gardening and other household work. Domestic workers may or may not live in their employer’s homes. Victims of domestic servitude commonly work 10 to 16 hours a day for little to no pay.

Domestic workers may be U.S. citizens, undocumented immigrants, or foreign nationals with specific visas types. The following visa types are common: A-3, G-5, NATO-7 or B-1. Victims of domestic servitude in the U.S. are most often foreign national women with or without documentation living in the home of their employer. Men and boys may also be victims, but these cases are less common.

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When Does it Become Trafficking?

A domestic work situation becomes trafficking when the employer uses force, fraud, or coercion to maintain control over the worker and to cause the worker to believe that he or she has no other choice but to continue with the work. Common elements of force, fraud, or coercion in domestic servitude situations include:

Force: Physical and/or sexual abuse; restrictions on movement; restricted communication with family or friends; constant surveillance; lack of treatment for work related injuries, sleep deprivation.

Fraud: False promises of a different job; false promises of educational opportunities; non-payment, underpayment or wage theft; visa fraud; false or altered contracts.

Coercion: Threats of harm to victim’s family or friends; debt manipulation; threats of deportation; ; document confiscation; pattern of verbal or psychological abuse design to elicit cooperation.

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Victim Vulnerabilities

Human trafficking spans all victim demographics and the vulnerabilities traffickers exploit are unique and specific to each victim (e.g. a developmental disorder, past child abuse, cultural beliefs). However, the NHTRC sees recurring vulnerabilities within the domestic work industry. Some examples of these include (and are not limited by):

Immigration Status – The National Domestic Worker’s Alliance reports that 65% of domestic workers in the United States are immigrants or people of color. Many victims of trafficking in domestic work are recruited by traffickers, and often through family or community ties. Once in the United States, traffickers often use the threat of deportation as well as document confiscation to maintain control of foreign national domestic workers.

Some domestic workers hold special visas which tie their immigration status to a single employer. If a domestic worker with an A-3, G-5 or NATO-7 visa leaves an abusive situation, he or she becomes undocumented and risks deportation. Traffickers frequently use victims’ unfamiliarity with U.S. laws and customs to make them believe there is danger in reporting their trafficking situation to law enforcement or seek help from social service providers.

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Industry Vulnerabilities

Traffickers conduct their trafficking operations in a wide range of industries, utilizing both legitimate and illegitimate venues and means of operation. Various industries are faced with challenges or weakness that can be used by traffickers as enabling factors for human trafficking. Examples of recurring vulnerabilities within the domestic work industry include (and are not limited to):

Exclusion from certain labor laws – Domestic work is particularly vulnerable to exploitation due to their exclusion from federal laws governing overtime pay, a safe and healthy work environment, workplace discrimination, and the right to organize and bargain collectively. Recently, some states have stepped in to cover gaps, passing domestic workers’ rights laws.

Isolation – By definition, domestic work occurs within the confines of a residential home. Victims within domestic work may have extremely limited or monitored interaction with others in the community, such as neighbors, school staff, or postal workers.

The NHTRC has received calls from domestic workers were required to live in their employer’s home and never left the premise of the residence. This level of isolation can be exploited by employers who proactively seek to limit victim’s interactions with the outside world and limit access to technology.

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Sources: Polaris, the United Nations

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