We are inundated daily by news of women being abused in their own homes, where they are supposed to feel the most safe and secure. The statistics are overwhelming and the shame that comes with an all-too-common problem is still deeply felt. According to the American Psychological Association, every year in the United States, over 4.7 million women experience extreme violence by a partner, and one in four women will be severely abused by a romantic partner in their lifetime.
This Domestic Violence Awareness Month we wanted to take a moment to talk about the intersection of domestic violence and trafficking, which most people might not think too much about. This statistic provided above is likely a higher percentage among women who are trafficked, but due to shame, and fear of the law, a majority of cases will go unreported. This is supported by research provided by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: “only approximately one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes, and one-half of all stalking that is perpetuated against females by intimate partners are reported to the police.”
According to Breaking Free, one third of women are trafficked at the hands of a romantic partner, family member, or family friend, and these traffickers use (domestic) violence as a means of power and control (learn more about the stages of trafficking here). There is a common misconception that traffickers are always strangers, when the reality is that traffickers often prey on those who are close to them, first building trust, and then taking advantage of that trust (read about more common myths surrounding sex trafficking here). It is important to talk about this in order for domestic and sexual violence service providers to be able to properly identify and assist survivors in a meaningful way and to END THIS.
The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence reports that “both batterers and traffickers use power and control to dominate their victims, and the range of tactics used by traffickers resembles that of domestic violence perpetrators.” The commonalities between domestic violence and sex trafficking don’t end there and include:
- Methods of power and control
- Cyclical violence/exploitation
- Sexual exploitation as abuse and physical violence as a means of power and control
- Force is not required for a situation to be considered trafficking and abuse can be physical and nonphysical (mental, threats, coercion)
- Non-physical abuse can create a sense of loyalty, fear, and dependence. This is covered in our recent blog post, The Myth of Choice
The parallels between domestic violence and sex trafficking can also be seen by looking at the definitions for domestic violence and sex trafficking:
- Sex trafficking: a form of modern slavery that exists throughout the United States and globally. Sex traffickers use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage, and other forms of coercion to compel adults and children to engage in commercial sex acts against their will.
- Domestic violence: a pattern of behavior that can include, physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, or financial abuse.
Forced commercial sex is abuse. Sexual and physical violence at the hands of a partner may be common in a relationship between a trafficker and an exploited person.
Take a look at the similarities between the domestic violence and the sex trafficking power and control wheels. The nonphysical and physical abuse between these two crimes runs parallel. We bring these similarities to your attention now, during Domestic Violence Awareness Month which was created in memoriam of those who have died due to domestic violence, and in celebration of survivors. Awareness is also being built around service providers recognizing that people being trafficked can be intimately connected with their trafficker and that sexual exploitation by people close to a trafficked person is considered domestic abuse. Awareness is critical in prevention and care of survivors, and the assurance that we continue to head in a direction that eliminates these abuses.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline presentation on human trafficking intersections with domestic violence.
Huffington Post’s article: 30 Shocking Domestic Violence Statistics That Remind Us It’s An Epidemic.
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence’s Connections Between Domestic Violence and Trafficking.
Power and control, and sex trafficking wheels from the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
MY SISTER Blog. How Sex Trafficking Happens: The Three Stages