Human trafficking and domestic violence are two of the most prevalent, horrendous crimes globally and stem from the same vice: control over others. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline and National Domestic Violence Hotline, here are their respective definitions:
Human trafficking: “a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against his/her will.”
Domestic Violence: “a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.”
In other words: domestic violence involves control over an intimate partner, while human trafficking involves control over someone for profit. In each case, someone is being controlled, but the severity, nature, and impact of the abuse vary. The two crimes are not exclusive to each other but often entangled in a dark reality for victims.
For instance, someone could be trafficked while in an intimate relationship with their trafficker, or someone could be in an intimate relationship with a partner who then forces them into commercial sex or labor services. According to a study cited in the U.S. Department of State’s 2009 Trafficking in Person Report, “70% of adult female trafficking victims experienced domestic violence prior to being trafficked.” The same article also mentioned how domestic violence can be a “push factor” making victims more vulnerable and prone to being trafficked.
While domestic violent and human trafficking exist for similar reasons and comingle, it is important to better understand the different affects in order to appropriately help survivors. Domestic violence is certainly painful, damaging, and traumatic; human trafficking goes a step beyond.
Shelters and services must address the needs of human trafficking survivors differently than domestic violence survivors. In other words, a short-term domestic violence shelter cannot always help a human trafficking survivor.
Take the experience of this sex trafficking survivor:
“When I got out of my trafficking situation I was put immediately by state patrol into a domestic violence shelter. It was the only shelter where I was from. I was their very first trafficking victim. So of course you put me with all these women who [were abused] by their husbands. [I was] a very different variety. Like, I couldn’t sleep with the lights off. Of course I got myself kicked out because I couldn’t function.” (quote taken from the Polaris Project)
Sadly, she is not alone. From 2007 to 2018, 47% of crisis cases coming into the National Human Trafficking Hotline involved a need for emergency shelter. With such a small amount of human trafficking-tailored homes in the U.S., many survivors turn to domestic violence shelters. But are these shelters equipped to handle human trafficking survivors? It depends on the shelter.
According to Polaris Project, many domestic violence shelters could help human trafficking survivors but need to recognize the barriers to more holistic care. These barriers include a lack of proper training to recognize and care for human trafficking survivors, employment requirements for residents, and a narrow definition of domestic violence that excludes trafficking survivors.
More domestic shelters need to expand their services, but there also needs to be more explicitly trafficking shelters. The latest Trafficking in Persons Report echoes this need:
“NGOs and survivor advocates continued to report insufficient access to emergency shelter, transitional housing, and long-term housing options for trafficking victims. Advocates called for more culturally appropriate services and increased availability of victim-centered, trauma-informed, and survivor-informed services for trafficking victims.”
This is why Greenlight Operation is working to open up the first restoration home in Cumberland County for women who have been sex trafficked. Our home will house 5-8 women for 6-12 months. Upon arrival, survivors will be enrolled in Greenlight Operation’s restoration program providing individualized, holistic care, including trauma therapy, counseling, and courses that equip each woman to live an independent and sustainable lifestyle.
We need your support to make this a reality. If you want to partner with Greenlight Operation’s restoration home project, consider donating at greenlightoperation.org/donate. Each gift brings a woman closer to freedom.