Domestic Work

A 19 year old woman from the Philippines was recruited and brought to the U.S. as a domestic worker by two doctors from Milwaukee, WI in 1985.  The couple forced the young woman to work in their home for the next 19 years until federal law enforcement removed her.  She was isolated, forbidden to go outside, and threatened by the traffickers with arrest, imprisonment, and deportation if she was discovered. 

Read the Department of Justice press release here.


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Domestic workers perform work within their employers’ households, such as cooking, cleaning, child-care, elder care, gardening, and other household work.

Domestic workers perform work within their employers’ households, such as cooking, cleaning, child-care, elder care, gardening and other household work.  Domestic workers may or may not live in their employer’s homes.  Domestic workers may be U.S. citizens, undocumented immigrants, or foreign nationals with specific visas types.  The following visa types are common: A-3, G-5, NATO-7 or B-1.

When does it become trafficking?

Victims of domestic servitude commonly work 10 to 16 hours a day or more for little to no pay.  A situation becomes trafficking when the employer uses force, fraud and/or coercion to maintain control over the worker and to cause the worker to believe that he or she has no other choice but to continue with the work.

Victims of domestic servitude in the U.S. are most often foreign national women with or without documentation living in the home of their employer.  Men and boys may also be victims, but these cases are less common.

Vulnerabilities and Means of Control
  • Exclusion from certain labor laws – Domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation due to their exclusion, either formally or in practice, from laws governing overtime pay, a safe and healthy work environment, workplace discrimination, and the right to organize and bargain collectively.  Insufficient contract oversight and enforcement also contribute to domestic worker vulnerability to exploitation.
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    Traffickers often exploit a foreign national domestic worker’s unfamiliarity with the language, laws, and customs of the U.S., and couple this with physical, verbal and/or sexual abuse to create a climate of fear and helplessness.
    Immigration Status – Traffickers often use the threat of deportation as well as document confiscation to maintain control of foreign national domestic workers.  Some domestic workers hold special visas which tie their immigration status to a single employer.  If a domestic worker with an A-3, G-5 or NATO-7 visa leaves an abusive situation, he or she becomes undocumented and risks deportation.
  • Means of Control – Traffickers may exert control over their victims through threats of deportation or other harm to the victim or the victim’s family, document confiscation, debt, and/or restrictions on movement and communication.  Traffickers often exploit a foreign national domestic worker’s unfamiliarity with the language, laws and customs of the US, and couple this with physical, verbal and/or sexual abuse to create a climate of fear and helplessness.  False promises of education or a better life are also common.