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Human trafficking is a crime involving the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act; it is a form of modern-day slavery and widely considered a violation of human rights. According to a report by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG, 2011), human trafficking disproportionately affects women and children. 70% of victims are women and girls, and of these, 90% are trafficked into the sex industry.
This multi-billion dollar criminal industry is estimated to restrict the freedom of more than 40 million people worldwide, and the United States is no exception (International Labour Organization, 2017). It is estimated that between 20,000 and 50,000 people are trafficked in the United States each year. This makes the U.S. one of the biggest destinations for the sex trafficking trade (Wooditch & Steverson, 2020). And while human trafficking can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, age, or nationality, migrant populations are especially vulnerable.
Types of Human Trafficking
There are two types of trafficking recognized under federal law: labor trafficking and sex trafficking.
Labor trafficking refers to the use of a person for peonage, slavery, debt bondage, or involuntary servitude. Common types of labor trafficking include forcing people to work as domestic servants, using violence to coerce farmworkers to harvest crops, or forcing factory workers to work in inhumane conditions with little to no pay.
Sex trafficking involves the coercion of a person into committing a sex act. We see recent moves to end sex trafficking in the United States with the signing of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act on April 11th, 2018. This act is aimed at shutting down websites enabling the crime of human trafficking and criminalizing the knowing assistance, facilitation, or support of sex trafficking.
How Traffickers Control Their Victims
Traffickers employ a range of tactics to control their victims. Most commonly, they use threats of physical violence and emotional abuse. They may threaten to isolate a victim from family or friends, endanger a person’s livelihood, or restrict a person’s movement. Traffickers may also make false promises of employment and a better life in exchange for money or work.
These experiences are often extremely traumatic for victims. Those who escape from human trafficking often present with various psychological symptoms and mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Victims often blame themselves and don’t initially self-identify as a victim. The consequence is that they may delay seeking help.
In the United States, traffickers manipulate and exploit those who are vulnerable. As such, the U.S. has provided support for victims of human trafficking by creating a special nonimmigrant status for this vulnerable population.
What is a T Visa?
In October 2000, Congress introduced T nonimmigrant status (often referred to as the “T Visa”). This status provides immigration relief for human trafficking survivors and victims. It also creates a path to a Green Card (i.e., Permanent Resident status). T Visas allow human trafficking survivors and their family members to stay and work temporarily in the United States, enabling victims to assist federal authorities in the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking cases.
Who is Eligible for the T Visa?
There are several criteria a person must meet to demonstrate eligibility for a T Visa.
- The person must be a survivor of a severe form of labor or sex trafficking (or attempted trafficking).
- The person must be physically present in the U.S. or at a port of entry due to trafficking. He or she must have also remained in the U.S. since the most recent act of trafficking.
- If 18 years or older, the victim must have demonstrated reasonable compliance with requests to assist with any investigations and/or prosecution of traffickers; a state, federal, or law enforcement agency has to certify that a person will be helpful to the investigation or prosecution of the crime.
- The person must be at risk of hardship should he or she be removed from the United States.
How can therapists help?
You can support those who have suffered from human trafficking by undertaking immigration evaluation training to prepare evaluations in support of T Visa applications. In these immigration evaluations, you will document the effects of trafficking felt by victims to build a case for their right to remain in the United States under this specific nonimmigrant status. Your support may also serve as the first step toward healing for your client, who will likely have experienced trauma as a consequence of being trafficked.
If you are interested in learning more, my Mastering Asylum Evaluations course also includes a lesson on preparing evaluations for a T visa case.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free hotline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-373-7888 to speak with a specially trained Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocate. Support is provided in more than 200 languages. This service is available to listen and connect you with the help you need to stay safe.
Callers can dial 711 to access the Hotline using TTY. You can also email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2011). Human Trafficking. https://www.acog.org/-/media/project/acog/acogorg/clinical/files/committee-opinion/articles/2019/09/human-trafficking.pdf
International Labour Office. (2017). Global Estimates of Modern Slavery. http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_575479.pdf
Wooditch, A. C. & Steverson, L. A. (2020). Human trafficking. In Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/human-trafficking
I’m Cecilia Racine, and I teach therapists how to help immigrants through my online courses. As a bilingual immigrant myself, I know the unique perspective that these clients are experiencing. I’ve conducted over 500 evaluations and work with dozens of lawyers in various states. Immigrants are my passion, I believe they add to the fabric of our country.
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