Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking

Human trafficking, like domestic violence, is about power and control. It occurs when one person compels or coerces another to engage in forced labor or paid sex work. For some survivors, human trafficking and domestic violence can be overlapping experiences.

Trafficking and domestic violence can overlap

Traffickers can be married to or in an intimate relationship with the people they traffic. In some cases, the trafficker begins the relationship under false pretenses explicitly to exploit their partner, most often sexually. Other relationships may devolve into human trafficking and domestic violence over time. Traffickers use tactics like other abusive partners to control their partner, including isolation, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and exploration, financial abuse, threatening family, physical abuse, and withholding food, transportation, or immigration paperwork. Sex traffickers may intentionally impregnate their partners so they can use the threat of separation or violence as another form of control. Immigrant survivors may face additional threats because of the language barrier, immigration status, and fear of deportation.

Patterns of abuse

Like domestic violence, incidents of human trafficking are under-reported, making it challenging to determine how many people experience both forms of abuse. Yet, we do see patterns in the abuse. Within Washington State and the U.S., women are substantially more likely to experience trafficking than men. And an estimated three out of every four female victims of human trafficking have already experienced domestic violence. Sexual exploitation is more commonly detected, but experts agree that forced labor—like working for family businesses—often goes under-detected.

Myths surround human trafficking

Much like domestic violence, our understanding of human trafficking is often clouded by myths. For example, human trafficking is often conflated with forced migration or smuggling. While some traffickers smuggle their victims into the country, others exploit U.S. citizens or immigrants who arrive on valid visas. There’s also a common misperception that sex work is synonymous with sex trafficking. People who engage in sex work may be vulnerable to trafficking, but many do the work consensually.

Additional Resources

The National Human Trafficking Hotline connects victims and survivors of sex and labor trafficking with services and supports to get help and stay safe.

Washington Trafficking Help (WATH) is the central source of information regarding services and resources available to aid human trafficking survivors in the state of Washington.