Secure Foundations: Human Trafficking Survivors and Housing

Jul 15, 2019

Human trafficking is the business of exploiting people for profit. Traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to ensnare their victims, and use physical, emotional and/or economic abuse to maintain control. Given the horrific conditions under which these victims live, it is remarkable that any of them survive trafficking. Yet, many do. Escaping the web of trafficking is a risky and difficult endeavor. But escaping is not enough. Survivors must re-build their lives from scratch, beginning with securing basic necessities such as shelter, food, and clothing. This should be a straight-forward process, but rarely is. For many survivors, the process of accessing shelter – a fundamental stepping stone to healing – is so fraught with challenges and barriers that they are propelled back into a life of victimization, struggle and marginalization.

Housing plays a central role in both the recruitment, exploitation, and retention of trafficking victims. Polaris, an anti-trafficking organization, reports that 64% of their survey respondents were homeless or lacked stable housing when they were targeted for trafficking. Traffickers often lure victims by promising them a safe place to sleep and live. Homeless shelters, inhabited by vulnerable individuals, are prime targets for trafficking recruitment. Traffickers use a range of housing – motels, apartments, vacation rentals, nursing homes – to shelter victims and run their operations.

While housing is a cornerstone of trafficking operations, it also plays a crucial role in helping survivors escape and heal from trafficking. A blog post for Polaris underscores this significance: “Shelter is not just four walls and a roof – it’s an embodiment of hope to survivors. It means they can be secure and leave a terrible situation, while knowing that they are believed and cared for.” Unfortunately, survivors often struggle to find both emergency (immediate, short-term) and long-term housing. Lack of awareness about trafficking, a dearth of funding for trafficking survivor services, and agencies’ particularities about who they will and will not serve all contribute to a critical lack of housing options for survivors. Trafficking survivors from marginalized populations, such as LGBTQ youth and people with disabilities, face even greater challenges in trying to secure housing.

In response to this housing crisis, the federal government announced this month that it will allocate $13,500,000 in grant money to organizations that provide housing and trauma-informed services to trafficking survivors. Among the states, there is a lack of consistent legislative support for trafficking survivors. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that the laws in some states have led to the implementation of anti-trafficking task forces. Twenty-two states have generated funds to support anti-trafficking endeavors and services for survivors. But trafficking survivors live in every state in the nation and must be able to access shelter and services no matter where they are. States must do more to address trafficking survivors’ immediate and long-term needs.

Our attorneys use the civil justice system to help trafficking survivors secure the financial compensation they need to secure housing and rebuild their lives. If you or someone you know has been a victim of human trafficking, please contact us for a free consultation.

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