Intersections of Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence: Things to be aware of during Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month, a time for reflection and for increasing awareness about the high rate of intimate partner and familial violence that occurs in the U.S. and around the world.  As President Obama’s recent presidential proclamation indicates, despite many gains, “domestic violence remains a devastating public health crisis when one in four women will be physically or sexually assaulted by a partner at some point in her lifetime.”  It is also important to consider the many ways that human trafficking intersects with domestic violence.

Domestic violence is commonly considered a “push factor” for human trafficking.  Due to the increased vulnerability caused by an abusive relationship, victims of domestic violence can find themselves isolated and without access to the financial and emotional support needed to leave to a safe situation, which puts them at high risk for exploitation.  Domestic Violence can also be a push factor for those who become traffickers.  According to a recent study, 88% of the traffickers interviewed indicated that they had grown up in homes where domestic violence was present.

Physical abuse is not the only or most common form of abuse used in domestic violence and human trafficking. Typically psychological, emotional and economic abuses are more widespread. The Duluth Model Power and Control Wheel is a tool in the domestic violence field that examines the non-physical types of abuse that can occur in relationships such as economic control, using children, using threats, etc.  At Polaris Project, we have developed a similar tool called the Human Trafficking Power and Control Wheel that shows types of abuse found within various trafficking situations, many of which mirror that used in intimate partner and familial abuse.

Human trafficking and domestic violence can intersect in even more profound ways.   Intimate partners can force their partners into highly exploitative situations.  A partner can also be a human trafficker.  Intimate Partner Trafficking is not a type of trafficking that has been researched, prosecuted or discussed to the extent as other trafficking trends we see – but it does happen.  However, much like intimate partner rape, it is likely that this type of exploitation is highly underreported.   Familial Trafficking is another way that trafficking and domestic violence come into direct contact.  While it is difficult to believe that a mother, father, brother, sister could force a relative to engage in commercial sex or forced labor, this is a trend that we see in forced commercial sex situations as well as domestic servitude.

So this October while we strive to be more aware of domestic violence, we should also be aware of how it can impact our work in the anti-trafficking field and how important it is for all of us to work together to stop these abusive and exploitative crimes from occurring in our communities.

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