Myth: Human Traffickers Always Use Physical Force to Control Victims

By Meghan Hampsey

Although traffickers often use physical force to control their victims, they don’t always. And physical force isn’t required for the crime to be considered trafficking under U.S. law. Traffickers use an array of tactics to control and manipulate victims, including threats or deception.

In the 2008 case David v. Signal International, Inc., 590 men were trafficked from India to Mississippi to provide construction services following Hurricane Katrina. The men responded to advertisements in Indian newspapers for work in the United States, which included the false promise of permanent residency. But in truth Signal knew that the men would only qualify for a temporary work visa.

Once the Signal victims arrived in Mississippi, they realized they would be making 30 percent less than they were promised. Further, large sums were deducted from the workers’ paychecks to compensate for their “accommodations”—overcrowded, unsanitary trailers. The workers were tied to their employer per their temporary work visas, and owed the recruiters up to $2,000 each in fees, making them unable to leave as they were indebted to their traffickers.

The traffickers in another prominent case, U.S. v. Maksimenko, also exploited the temporary work visa program to bring women to the United States from Eastern Europe, and then used recruitment fees to trap the victims and force them to work as dancers in strip clubs throughout the Detroit area. They seized all of the victims’ immigration documents and earnings in order to restrict them from leaving the house where they were kept and closely monitored.

Debts and recruitment fees are ultimately a trap to keep the victim under the traffickers’ control. Such fees are especially effective because victims often have limited resources to begin with, are underpaid by their employers, and are bound to their employers and/or recruiters while their debt keeps compounding with exorbitant “interest” and more fees.

Foreign victims brought to the United States can also be manipulated and controlled by threats of deportation, threats of harm, and other forms of psychological abuse that can be just as devastating and effective as physical force. When one Signal victim tried to organize workers against the company, he was threatened with deportation.

Human trafficking under U.S. law encompasses various forms of control and coercion, which can include force, threats of force, serious harm, abuse or threatened abuse of the legal process, and anything that causes the victims to believe that if they don’t perform the job, they or someone connected to them might suffer harm. For more case studies and information on modern day slavery, please see our campaign webpage, Understanding Modern Slavery.


Published on June 7, 2016


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