U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

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

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2014
306 pages
This study examines the organization, operation, and victimization process of labor trafficking across multiple industries in the United States; and examines victim abuse and exploitation along a continuum, from recruitment for work through their migration experiences (if any), employment victimization experiences, and efforts to seek help.
Data for this study came from a sample of 122 closed labor trafficking victim service records from four US cities and interviews conducted with survivors, local and Federal law enforcement, advocates, and service providers from each site. All the victims in this study were immigrants working in the United States. The 71 percent of the sample entered the United States on a temporary visa. All victims in the sample experienced elements of force, fraud, and coercion, including document fraud; withholding documents; extortion; sexual abuse and rape; discrimination; psychological manipulation and coercion; torture; attempted murder; and violence and threats against themselves and their family members. It was also found that victims faced high rates of civil labor exploitation. These included being paid less than minimum wage; being paid less than promised; wage theft; and illegal deductions. While legal under some visa programs and labor law, employers/traffickers also controlled housing, food, and transportation of a significant proportion of the sample. Immigration status was a powerful mechanism of control - with employers threatening both workers with visas and unauthorized workers with arrest as a means of keeping them in forced labor. Despite 71 percent of the sample arriving in the United States for work on a visa, by the time victims escaped and were connected to service providers, 69 percent were unauthorized. Investigations were not prioritized by enforcement agencies. This was consistent across all study sites and industries examined. Survivors mostly escaped on their own and lived for several months or years before being connected to a specialized service provider. Lack of awareness and outreach, coupled with the fear of being unauthorized, inhibited the identification of survivors. Policy and practice recommendations are provided to improve identification and response to labor trafficking and guide future research on labor trafficking victimization.

Date Published: October 1, 2014