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FAQ on Human Trafficking

I have been getting some requests from students and others for informational interviews- so I thought we would go on the record here and help answer some frequently asked questions about Break the Chain's work on human trafficking. Below are some written responses I recently sent to a student working on a human trafficking research project. Enjoy! -TW


What kinds of people are typically trafficked, in terms of age, race/ethnicity class etc.?

The interesting thing about trafficking is that there is no “typical” race, ethnicity, or class. Around the world there are men, women, and children being trafficked into all different kinds of industries- from commercial sex, agriculture, child soldiering, to domestic work, which is Break the Chain’s area of focus. These individuals have various levels of education (we have had clients with everything from 2nd grade education to college degrees). Anecdotally, the anti-trafficking community has noted a link between lack of economic opportunity in the home country (which could point to class but could also just be a symptom of unchecked globalization) and vulnerability to trafficking, however we are in need of more studies that can really identify cause and effect in a scientific way.


Can you talk about the transformation (psychologically and or physically) of girls and women during trafficking? What are the psychological steps that females generally go through when they enter into slavery?

I recommend you start here:



How are they treated, both physically and mentally? Are there any examples of specific stories? 

Trafficking represents a total robbery of individual human rights. Trafficking can manifest in a variety of ways- it is not always kidnapping-> physical restraint -> forced sex. Though this is the storyline most often portrayed in the media. In fact, because the definition of trafficking includes any form of force, fraud, or coercion (including psychological coercion), how victims are “treated” can vary. In general though, movement is restricted, identity documents are taken, and the individual is forced to work against her will, or is promised pay/working conditions that she did not actually receive, or is told if she complains that she will be deported or her family will be harmed in some way. Again, traffickers use a variety of means to control victims- but the common theme is that the person loses her freedom of movement and self-determination, feels unable to leave for a variety of reasons (not just physical restraint), and sometimes the situation is severely aggravated by physical, sexual, and/or verbal abuse.



How do girls/women do, when or if they escape? What are some of the common issues they deal with. Are their issues with acclimating once they escape?  Do you have any examples? 

Speaking from our experience at Break the Chain providing direct services to household workers who have escaped human trafficking, it really varies! How they “do” depends on many factors, some endemic to the trafficking situation (e.g. physical/sexual assault can compound trauma) and some endemic to the individual (e.g., her existing psychological strength and coping mechanisms).

Our knowledge of best practices tell us that basic needs to address right away as service providers are:

  1. Safety
  2. Physical Health
  3. Mental Health
  4. Food/Shelter/Clothing
  5. Legal Needs (including connecting clients to lawyers for criminal and civil cases)
  6. Immigration Needs for foreign-born victims (including obtaining a visa, access to public benefits and work authorization)
  7. Life skills (riding the bus, opening a bank account, work readiness)
  8. Social interaction and support (churches, support groups)
  9. Connecting to empowerment/rights movements


Of course, it’s important for you to note that the bottom line is we “start where the client is” meaning that this order is not set in stone. In social work, the value of client self-determination is sacred, so the other thing to note as that all of these services are completely voluntary, and we always thoroughly assess whether the client wants to pursue services.

To answer your question about acclimation, yes, it is often a factor for foreign-born survivors, especially those who have been isolated (e.g., household workers) behind closed doors. At Break the Chain we have had to teach and practice riding on an escalator, buying your own groceries, and even making change. Depending on the level of deprivation/isolation/control, some survivors have very few practical life skills to help them get by in the US on their own. Traffickers know and use this to their advantage. Language is an especially difficult barrier to overcome.


How do female sex slaves understand their personal situation and current lifestyle?

I recommend you contact Safe Horizon in New York City for more specifics on particular dynamics of trafficking for sex, as this is not BTCC's area of expertise. However, I want to point out something very important: many women who are trafficked for purposes other than sex are vulnerable to sexual assault. The nature of trafficking means that regardless of the industry that women are forced to work in (prostitution, domestic work, restaurant work, etc.) their status as women makes them vulnerable to sexual assault. I should also mention that men and boys are vulnerable to sexual assault as well. Therefore dividing the definition of human trafficking to create two separate victim populations (“sex slaves” vs. other forms of human trafficking) only causes harm. Dividing public attention, legislation, and services so that two separate ideas of human trafficking are competing will marginalize victims (who might feel less important or acknowledged if they don’t fit a definition of “sex trafficking”), it will divide service providers (who should all be working together to uphold a common definition and response to human trafficking in all its forms, rather than fighting it out for funding or press clips), and it will divide this country’s efforts to combat and address human trafficking because we will have to double training and law enforcement  (one for sex, one for other labor) instead of requiring that all training and law enforcement cover all forms of trafficking and first responders can be empowered to identify trafficking in whatever form presents itself.


What is your mission statement?

 Our Mission Statement:

Break the Chain Campaign seeks to prevent and address the effects of the exploitation and abuse of migrant working women through survivor driven advocacy, outreach, and technical support. We are working to deepen the connections between parallel movements of human rights, immigrant rights, worker rights, climate justice, trade and tax fairness, and demilitarization, through the lens of domestic workers fighting for justice in the US and around the world.

What we do:

For 13 years, we have provided direct social services for domestic workers (nannies, housekeepers, and caregivers) who have survived human trafficking and worker exploitation. Historically, our work has centered around the struggles of household workers employed by diplomats and employees of international organizations like the World Bank and the IMF. Currently, we focus on research, writing, policy advocacy, and training, all based on our direct service experience and our commitment to a rights-based approach.  



What strategies do you enter with, when working with a case?

  1. Rights-based approach – valuing human rights and working to restore them, which includes respecting clients right to plan her own recovery goals, and to accept or reject services
  2. Safety first! For the client and the case manager, safety is an ongoing concern
  3. Flexibility and creativity- there are many ways to solve problems, we work collaboratively to create strategies with clients, rather than “saving” them or providing “charity” or “rescue”


 What unique aspects of your mission statement produce results?

The principles I mention above usually mean that when our case work is over, the client is feeling more empowered, independent, and ready to move on with her life (rather than fostering a dependent relationship or one of forced gratitude). “Survivor driven” advocacy means that we rely on the voices, experiences, and opinions of survivors to help us shape our policy work.

Because our mission and work involves a broad view of the issues facing migrant domestic workers, we are able to talk about interconnected issues that are typically missing from current discourse on human trafficking. For example, wage inequality and environmental destruction are factors that influence women’s economic and geographic decisions, and thrust them into the world market where they are more vulnerable to trafficking. This piece of our mission, to look at root causes and broad effects, produces results that contribute to reality-based prevention strategies.


How closely does your organization work with the legal system to protect these    women and children?

We refer clients to law enforcement, we refer clients to pro-bono attorneys who can represent them on immigration, civil, and criminal cases, and we educate policymakers on the realities of human trafficking so that the legal system is more in line with what survivors actually need.


Are there any specific efforts which help these women not be trafficked? What do you think the US government and social service agencies should change/do better to help these girls and women?

This could be the subject of a 100 page essay. I think you should start with the 2010 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report produced by the US State Department. The beginning sections really lays out some best practices for countries- among which the United States has been ranked for the first time in the Report’s history.

The answer that I usually give on prevention is:

-       Education (in all its forms- formal education for women and girls, education about rights before leaving the country, education about rights upon arrival in the US, and education of the public, law enforcement, and policymakers on human traffiicking)

-       Economic opportunity and fair trade/development/debt policies so that women feel less pressure to leave their home countries to support their families

-       Flexible immigration- particularly portable visas so that workers are not tied to individual employers (who can use this power to hold the person in the trafficking situation)

-       Strong labor laws that protect all workers in every industry- we see a lot of trafficking in industries that are marginalized by their lack of recognition or protection. For example, domestic workers and farmworkers, two populations that are highly vulnerable to human trafficking, are excluded from many labor protections in US law.


On protection, our major talking points are

-       Maintain and promote a victim-centered approach, which means that victims are not treated as solely a witness for prosecution but that their physical and emotional needs are addressed first and foremost, and that they can opt out of pursuing a criminal case if they feel threatened or emotionally unable to cooperate with law enforcement.

-       Ensure adequate funding for direct services, especially housing

-       Ensure a uniform, mandatory, comprehensive training for all government agencies that includes both the law enforcement perspective and the NGO service provider perspective

-       Ensure that all legislation upholds the Federal definition of human trafficking, and avoid separating victims of sex and labor trafficking which will require them to compete against each other for services and attention.


I hope this helps!

Tiffany Williams, LGSW

Advocacy Director, Break the Chain Campaign

Institute for Policy Studies

Washington, DC



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