Intersections of Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence

October is domestic violence awareness month, which makes it is a great time for us to take a look into how domestic violence and human trafficking intersect. Domestic violence is defined by the U.S. Department of Justice as a pattern of abuse in a relationship by one partner to gain and maintain power and control over the other intimate partner (2016). This pattern of power and control is common in human trafficking. Out 785 women from all over the world, 89% said they would leave prostitution if they felt they were able to, and 71% report being physically assaulted (Farley et al., 2004).

Over a hundred men who purchase sex were interviewed, and over a quarter of them described the relationship between the victim and the pimp as exploitative and harmful (Durchslag & Goswami, 2008). Many survivors have experienced both domestic violence and human trafficking in their lifetime. It is not uncommon for domestic violence and human trafficking to occur at the same time. Traffickers and intimate-partner abusers can be one in the same, and they can both be characterized by patterns of control, intimidation, isolation, and exploitation.

One example of this would be falling in love, getting married, agreeing to move to the United States, but arriving to a hostile environment and a husband who forces you to pay off the cost of your travel at his cousin’s brothel. Another example is dating a friend from your neighborhood, having a child with him, but soon after he suddenly becomes abusive and convinces you the only way to support your family is to engage in commercial sex. In some cases, traffickers target women who have a history of domestic violence. There have been situations where an individual is able to leave an abusive spouse and then is recruited by a trafficker to come to the United States with the promise of a better life and stable job, and the situation becomes exploitative with no pay or no breaks. All of these examples prove the importance of being aware that human trafficking can occur in intimate-partner relationships.

Author: Emily Wright, MSW Fellow & Bhumika Patel, Regional Coalition Specialist


Durchslag, R., & Goswami, S. (2008). Deconstructing the demand for prostitution: Preliminary
insights from interviews with Chicago men who purchase sex. Retrieved from:

Farley, M., Cotton, A., Lynne, J., Zumbeck, S., Spiwak, F., Reyes, M., Alvalez, D., & Sezgin, U.
(2004). Prostitution and trafficking in nine countries. Journal of Trauma Practice, 2(4), 33-74.

U.S. Department of Justice. (2016). Domestic violence. Retrieved from


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