Domestic labor trafficking in the U.S. is often overlooked by the public, and U.S. labor laws that protect workers generally exclude domestic laborers, according to a Polaris Project published July 24.

From 2007 to 2017, the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline processed 8,000 cases involving labor trafficking, with 23% of them involving domestic workers (the highest percentage of any form of labor trafficking reported to the hotline).

Few domestic laborers (an estimated 8%) have formal contracts, making exploitation – withheld pay, long working hours without overtime pay, lack of vacation time or health insurance, among other conditions – more likely.

While the report noted that not every exploitative domestic labor situation constitutes labor trafficking, it emphasized that “in the environment of normalized exploitative conditions without adequate legal protections, labor trafficking thrives.”

Most labor trafficking victims are female (91%), adults (99.3%) and foreign nationals (92%).

Nannies, housekeepers/cleaners and other caregivers (such as home-health aides) are the types of domestic laborers most often taken advantage of and at risk for trafficking.

One former domestic labor trafficking victim highlighted in the report was hired to work as a nanny.

Upon arriving at the home “in a mid-sized southern U.S. city,” she was required not only to care for the children but also to cook and clean for the entire family.

Regularly forced to work from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m., she was paid half the amount promised, not allowed to leave the house and had her passport taken away.

The top five methods used by traffickers to control domestic laborers are withholding earnings, misrepresenting the job, requiring excessive working hours, emotional / verbal abuse and manipulation, and withholding / denying needs or wants of the laborer.

“While public awareness of human trafficking as a concept has become more widespread over the past decade than before, the vast majority of educational and ‘see something say something’ type campaigns in this sphere are focused on sex trafficking. In many communities, there is not even a general understanding of labor trafficking as a crime,” the report said.

“If we are to make a dent in labor trafficking of domestic workers, there must be a concerted effort to reach and educate both people who are likely to come into contact with domestic workers and potentially vulnerable workers themselves, such as diaspora community groups with which some victims may have ties.”

The full report is available here.

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