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Examples of Human Trafficking

Examples of Human TraffickingAll too often, individual stories of crime victims are buried beneath a multitude of statistics. It is important to remember that for each statistic, each prosecution, and each victim rehabilitation there is a human being who has been tragically affected. It is through the voice of individual victims that we come to fully grasp the dimensions of this problem both within and outside New York City. The following eight case studies involving real people were provided by the Safe Horizon and City Bar Justice Center.

At the age of 15 Nasreen's family sent her to live with her uncle in New York after experiencing severe financial troubles at home in Central Asia.   Before she arrived, her uncle promised her that he would register her for school and she would work for him part-time in his corner store. But when she arrived she was put straight to work. Nasreen was forced to do domestic work in her uncle's home all day, and he made her work as the cashier in his store until late every night. He never offered to pay her for her work and he insisted that she was selfish to want to continue her education.

Nasreen lived like this for two years, working long hours and experiencing constant verbal abuse from her uncle. Whenever Nasreen asked when she would be allowed to go to school, her uncle punished her by preventing her from speaking with her family back in her home country. One day, Nasreen decided she could not take it anymore and ran away.

Nasreen sought out services from a local homeless youth organization after meeting some runaway youth at the piers. She met with a case manager and stayed in the youth shelter for 30 days. During that time she also made connections within the Muslim community and a family decided to take her in. Her case manager continued to work with Nasreen to help her adapt to the cultural, religious, and lifestyle changes of living in New York. Her English improved significantly and she recently completed her high school education, winning awards along the way. Nasreen has been able to re-connect with her family and hopes to visit them soon. In the meantime, she is attending college with aspirations towards becoming a nurse.


Manuel was a 20-year old married man from South America who decided to come to the United States after his friend approached him about a work opportunity. Manuel would have to pay a fee to travel to the US to make money for farm work.    His harrowing journey to the United States lasted for weeks and included being forced by armed men to walk for hours on end as well as being drugged.

After crossing the US border, he was taken to an apartment where he was kept with over a 100 other people.  The apartment was dirty, rat-infested, and guarded by armed men.  He was held in this apartment for months because he was unable to pay the additional smuggling fees which were demanded from him.  During his time there, he was forced to cook and clean for the others but without any compensation. He was repeatedly threatened, including being told that he would be killed and was witness to acts of sexual violence. At one point Manuel and a few other men attempted to help a woman who was being raped. As punishment, the traffickers forcibly removed one man at a time from the apartment, and none of them ever returned. The traffickers forcibly removed Manuel from the apartment, and he feared he was going to be killed. He was not killed, but instead severely beaten up and thrown out of a moving van, which provided an opportunity to run away. As he was running, he saw a police car and flagged it down.  The police took him to hospital for his injuries where he was referred to a service provider. He cooperated with the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement to try to identify his traffickers, but they were never found so the case was closed. He has received a T-Visa, was reunified with his wife and is now a Legal Permanent Residence who is currently working in construction.


John was 16 years old when he ran away from his home in Nebraska, hoping to see the country.  He arrived in New York City and was quickly stranded once he ran out of money.  He was sleeping on the streets and fell in with a group of older homeless youth who introduced him to injecting heroin.  Within a few months they also introduced him to some older men who would pay him for sexual favors so that he could afford the heroin that he now needed in order to get through the day.

John initially made contact with street outreach workers who referred him to more ongoing supportive services and helped him find the resources he needed to take care of himself, including shelter and psychiatric help to manage his addiction.  John had never told anyone about how he was supporting himself and his drug habit while on the street and he had a lot of shame and anxiety about this.  After a few weeks of non-judgmental counseling he began to open up about his experience of trading sex for drug money and especially what this meant to him as a heterosexual young man.  Through the counseling and services he received he was able to get his GED, find a job, and move into a supportive housing program for young people who are recovering drug users.


Alex was 15 years old and living in a group home in Queens when she met her boyfriend.  She was frustrated with her life in the group home and felt that the workers only noticed her when she was doing something wrong.  In contrast, David, her new 31 year old boyfriend, showered her with love and attention.  When he offered that she could move in with him Alex didn't think twice.

At first Alex loved living with David but soon their relationship grew violent and he began pressuring her to contribute financially.  Alex knew David was struggling to support her and she wanted to help out but she didn't feel comfortable with his suggestion that she sleep with men for money.  He argued that plenty of women do this and it would be a sign of her love for him.  He said they needed the money in order to continue to be able to stay together in his apartment.  If they lost the apartment she would have to go back to foster care, and he told her that they would place her in a locked facility because she had previously run away.

Alex agreed to enter into prostitution and eventually wound up working on a well-known prostitution stroll.  Sometimes outreach workers would come by and give the women who were working packs of condoms, while offering to talk with them about available services.  Alex often thought about running away from David, especially after he beat her up.  But where would she go?  She didn't want to go back to foster care because she feared they would lock her up.  She couldn't return to her old neighborhood in Queens, because David often told her what he would do to her if she ever left him, and he would know to find  her there.  Alex could not think of a safe place to run, and so she stayed.  One time the condom pack that the outreach workers handed her had a card in it that described a drop-in center she could go to where she could get help.  When she did decide to leave David she went to the drop-in center and was able to describe her situation to an intake worker.

When Alex first arrived at the drop-in center she was 19 years old.  The intake counselor was able to help her enter a domestic violence shelter.  Alex continued to come into the drop-in center to meet with her counselor and receive support.  Today she is working in retail and is a devoted mother to her two young children.


Yesenia M., a young woman from Mexico, was brought to the United States at age 17 to work as a babysitter for Mr. Sanchez. Mr. Sanchez was also from Mexico, but he had come to the United States years earlier to start a furniture business. He married an American woman and had two young children. Mr. Sanchez travelled to Mexico and met Yesenia when she was working for her family business selling groceries. He complimented her on her professionalism and offered her a job taking care of his two young children in the United States. He discussed the opportunity with her family, and they all agreed that she would come to the United States and work as a nanny for the family.

Mr. Sanchez arranged for her travel, and she arrived in the United States soon after. Her tasks included cooking, cleaning, bathing the children, laundry, and yard work. Yesenia did not have her own room and seldom had a moment's rest. The job had turned out to be something very different from what she expected. She was not paid for her work and was not allowed to speak to anyone outside the family. Yesenia also endured three incidents of sexual abuse and rape by Mr. Sanchez, who drugged her and took advantage of her. Desperate to leave her miserable situation, Yesenia befriended a woman at church who helped her escape from her trafficker.

Once Yesenia escaped, she was determined to bring her trafficker to justice by contacting the appropriate authorities and cooperating in the investigation. Mr. Sanchez was arrested and prosecuted for rape and human trafficking. He received a prison sentence, had to forfeit property, and will be deported upon finishing his sentence. Yesenia now has a T visa, a nonimmigrant status visa for victims of human trafficking, and is attending college.

Vicky F., a young woman from Mexico, came to the United States with her husband, Jorge. They left their young son back home with Jorge's mother. Jorge convinced Vicky to work as a prostitute so that they could save money to build a house back home. He kept all the money she earned and sent it directly back home to his family. Vicky was not allowed to keep a dime. He told her that if she did not work as a prostitute, she would never be allowed to see their son again. He threatened her with physical abuse and hit her when she disobeyed him.

Vicky's mother grew suspicious after she did not hear from her daughter for an extended period and contacted the authorities. She had a telephone number for Vicky that was traced to an apartment in Queens. Law enforcement investigated and located Vicky, who broke down and told them what Jorge was forcing her to do. They helped Vicky find a place to stay and referred her for counseling. Vicky cooperated with the prosecution in the case against Jorge. He received one of the longest sentences for human trafficking to date. Vicky now has a T visa and has been reunited with her son.

Vishalie A., a young woman from India, came to the United States to work as a nanny to support her widowed mother and four younger siblings. Vishalie answered a newspaper advertisement in India. She responded to the ad and went for an interview. She was offered a job with the Desai family, but the terms changed without notice as soon as she arrived in the U.S. Her passport was confiscated by Mr. Desai, and she was sent to work for another family, the Patels, in New Jersey. Mr. and Mrs. Patel paid Mr. Desai directly and seemed not to know that Vishalie wasn't receiving any of her wages. She was not permitted to leave the Patel home alone.

When Vishalie asked about her wages a few months after starting work, the Patels learned that she wasn't receiving any compensation. They decided to drive her to the train station and arrange for Mr. Desai to pick her up. She went back to working for the Desai family but, again, was still not being paid. Vishalie was physically abused on several occasions by Mrs. Desai. She was extremely isolated and was not given any days off from work. Mr. Desai kept her passport the entire time she was in the United States. Vishalie was able to escape through the help of a concerned neighbor, and she connected with a domestic worker's rights organization in Queens. Vishalie reported the Desais to law enforcement officials and now has a T visa.

Alena P. was a dancer and performer in Russia. She came to the United States on a visa for cultural performances to work in a theater troupe. When she arrived, she was taken to an apartment in New Jersey and told that she was to work as a stripper to pay off the debt that she accrued from coming to the United States. She was physically threatened and her passport was confiscated.

She worked for almost a year, only receiving about $50 a week that she had to use to pay for meals. Every day, her traffickers picked her up from an apartment, which she shared with other young women who also worked at the strip club, and brought her directly to work. She was not told how long she had to work there to pay off her debt. The total amount that she owed was not clear either because her traffickers deducted rent, transportation, and costume fees from her income.

One day, one of her roommates ran away, escaping from the apartment through a window, and went to the police. Her traffickers were arrested. Alena cooperated in the investigation of her traffickers, who were successfully prosecuted. She now has a T visa, is married, and is the mother of a young son.