Understanding the Organization, Operation, and Victimization Process of Labor Trafficking in the United States

Colleen Owens, Meredith Dank, Amy Farrell, Justin Breaux, Isela Banuelos, Rebecca Pfeffer, Ryan Heitsmith, Katie Bright, & Jack McDevitt
Date of Publication: 
October, 2014
Source Organization: 
Urban Institute

With funding from the National Institute of Justice (Office of Justice Programs), this study is the first of its kind to examine the organization, operation, and victimization process of labor trafficking across multiple industries in the U.S.

The research is intended to fill the gap in knowledge of labor trafficking, which has not been studied as extensively as sex trafficking. Data for this study came from a sample of 122 closed labor trafficking cases handled by service providers in four U.S. cities. This study aslo include 86 interviews with victims, service providers, legal advocates, and local and federal officials. Most victims entered the U.S. on legal temporary visas and worked in the areas of agriculture, hospitality, domestic service in private residences, and restaurants. Few formal connections were found between labor trafficking perpetrators and other criminal networks, such as drug trafficking. The study examines the recruitment process in countries origin, the process of movement into the United States, the forms of intimidation or threats that traffickers used to keep victims in exploitive situations, how victims escaped from these situations, and the nature of services received after escape. Victims experienced document fraud, withholding of documents, extortion, sexual abuse and rape, discrimination, psychological manipulation and coercion, torture, attempted murder, and violence and threats against victims and their family members. In addition to these criminal activities, victims also experienced high rates of civil labor exploitation. The report finds that local law enforcement authorities did not prioritize prosecution of these cases and had trouble separating labor trafficking from other forms of labor exploitation and workplace violations. Owens et. al. present a series of policy and practice recommendations, including reforms to state and federal laws, greater public awareness of the problem, specialized training for law enforcement, and dedicated funding to support civil litigation for trafficking survivors so they can collect back wages and damages. (Abstract courtesy of Dr. Nicholas V. Montalto)

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Colleen Owens, C., Dank, M., Farrell, A., Breaux, J., Banuelos, I., Pfeffer, R........McDevitt, J. (2014). Understanding the Organization, Operation, and Victimization Process of Labor Trafficking in the United States. The Urban Institute. Washington: DC. Available at: http://www.urban.org/publications/413249.html.