Residential Brothels

"She came from Guatemala, a woman in her early 20's, smuggled into the United States for what she thought was a housekeeping job. The journey from her small town to the Texas border took 26 days.  From there she was whisked to a safe house near Houston, then brought to Tampa, and moved once more to a house in Jacksonville. There, an enforcer for the human trafficking operation told the woman her debt had jumped from $5,000 to $30,000. The enforcer demonstrated how to use a condom by rolling it over a beer bottle. He said she'd have to pay back the debt as a prostitute, according to authorities. She turned 25 tricks the next day and nearly every day for eight or nine months. This tortured existence — the daily life of a human trafficking victim — ended May 22, 2007, when authorities intervened."

- 2009 St. Petersburg Times Article

A residential building that operated as a sex trafficking location.

Human trafficking victims in residential brothels are often forced to provide commercial sex to high volumes of men daily.  In certain sex trafficking networks, women and girls commonly "serve" as many as four men per hour (every 15 minutes), totaling 48 men in a given 12 hour day.  In this network, the victims are almost always women and children from Latin America.  Brothels are typically located in homes, town homes, condos, apartments, and trailers.  The majority of residential brothels are “closed networks” for only Latino men as "johns."  Rather than advertizing online or through newspapers, they distribute business cards or “tarjetas” and also publicize their existence through word-of-mouth.  

After being brought into the U.S. from Nicaragua by two controllers, a young woman was kept in an apartment building and forced to provide commercial sex against her will.  The men would come to the street corner outside the apartment and call a phone number.  One of the controllers would let the man in and take the money.  Once, a young man visited the apartment and she told him her story – which she was unable to leave or call for help. The young man reported the situation anonymously to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.*

*Based on calls received by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.  Identifying details have been changed to protect confidentiality.

When does it become trafficking?

This is a photo of a room in a residential brothel.  Women and girls commonly see as many as four men per hour (every 15 minutes), totaling 48 men in a given 12 hour day.

Trafficking occurs when brothel operators and/or boyfriends/recruiters use force, fraud, and/or coercion to maintain control over women in the brothel and to cause them to engage in commercial sex acts.  An individual under the age of 18 engaged in commercial sex is considered a victim of sex trafficking regardless of the presence of force, fraud or coercion.  Common means of control include:

– Complete isolation in the residential brothel; regular and frequent transportation to other brothels or other cities by drivers working for the trafficking network; physical or sexual abuse.

Fraud – False promises of a better life; false promises that a job in the United States will be better than their current job; false promises by a trafficker presenting as a boyfriend.

Coercion – Pressure to please the customer; debt manipulation; verbal, psychological and emotional abuse; threats of harm to the victim or victim’s family; threats to shame the victim by revealing the commercial sex to his or her family and others in the community;  exploitation of a foreign national unfamiliarity with the language, laws and customs of the U.S.; threats of deportation and arrest; confiscation of passports and visas; restrictions on communication to family; forced abortions; rumors of or witnessed violence at hands of traffickers; coercive pressure from boyfriends or pimps outside the brothel.

*The above list is not comprehensive or cumulative.  One element of force, fraud or coercion may be present, or many.


Immigration Status – Frequently, the women within residential brothel networks are undocumented. They may have come to the U.S. on a legitimate visa, a false visa provided to them by the network, or they may have been smuggled across the border.  In many cases, their passport or identification documents have been confiscated by the trafficker, further increasing their vulnerability.  Without legal status, the women frequently are taught by traffickers to fear and distrust police or government authorities.  

Economic Hardship – Residential brothel networks often target women experiencing economic hardship, exploiting women’s need to care financially for family members or children.  

Frequent Movement & Disorientation – Typically, women are not aware of or familiar with their surroundings because they are made to live and sleep at the brothel location and are not allowed to leave except when transported to a new brothel location.

Recruitment – Similar to domestic pimp-controlled sex trafficking, women in residential brothels are commonly recruited into the network by traffickers posing as boyfriends who feign romance and affection.  Others are recruited in their home countries through false job promises in the U.S.  Latina women already living in the U.S. may also be targeted through print advertisements, informal communications, or word of mouth.

Statistics Snapshot

  • Standard price for 15 minutes of sex at a Residential Brothel: $30
  • Standard day for a woman or child at a Residential Brothel: 10am – 10pm; 12 hours; 7 days a week
  • Estimated number of men a woman or child must have sex with daily: 25 – 48 men daily

For resources on human trafficking in residential brothels, click here

National Human Trafficking Resource Center National Human Trafficking Resource Center Report Human Trafficking Access Trainings Human Trafficking Information & Resources

Client Quotes

"Thanks to Polaris Project, I have a job, a home, and many friends that help me when I need it. I am making a life of my own."


- Survivor of Labor Trafficking & Client of Polaris