Human trafficking

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Maria's story

Maria was the sole provider for her small family, and she was struggling to take care of them. When an opportunity came up to work in the United States, Maria thought she was doing what was best for everyone. She was offered temporary employment and promised good wages.

She was given a foreign worker visa, but when she arrived in the U.S., her employer took her visa and passport. She was told where to live and was not allowed to contact her family. She worked 16 hours a day under poor conditions. Maria was scared and did not know how she was going to get out of the situation. But with her children in mind, Maria asked for help.

Your story

Whether your story is similar to Maria's or not, know that help is available now. You are not alone. See Rights of crime victims and witnesses.

The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally, with hundreds of thousands in the United States.
Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against their will. For more information, see Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force, Office on Trafficking in Persons, and National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Month 1

Maria lived in Venezuela with her two young children. She wanted to be able to provide a good life for them, but there weren’t many opportunities. Her uncle put her in touch with someone he knew who had connections in the United States. The recruiter offered Maria a temporary job at a nice hotel with good pay in the United States. Maria decided to accept the offer and signed a contract. Her children could stay with her mother, and she would send money back to them. She also hoped that eventually she could bring them to the United States to live with her.

Options for help

Human trafficking is a market-driven criminal industry that is based on the principles of supply and demand, like drugs or arms trafficking. Many factors make children and adults vulnerable to human trafficking. Generally, human trafficking victims are subjected to sexual exploitation, forced labor, or both. Sexual exploitation is also known as sex trafficking, and forced labor is also called labor trafficking. For more information, visit the Office on Trafficking in Persons and the National Human Trafficking Hotline.  

Month 2

The recruiter helped Maria get a foreign worker visa and plane ticket to the United States. When she arrived, her new employer explained that she needed to work off the cost of the visa and the plane ticket. He told her that he would hold onto her passport and visa. He brought her to a house where he said all of the foreign employees lived together. She noticed that the windows were boarded up and that there were security cameras both inside and outside the house. 

Options for help

Labor trafficking is a form of human trafficking and may include debt bondage, forced labor, and involuntary child labor. Labor traffickers use violence, threats, lies, and other forms of coercion to force people to work against their will in many industries.

Common types of labor trafficking include people forced to work in homes as domestic servants, farm workers coerced through violence as they harvest crops, or factory workers held in inhumane conditions with little to no pay. Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 to get resources and information for victims of human trafficking. 

Month 3

The employer had Maria working as a housekeeper in a hotel. She was instructed to clean rooms and not interact with hotel guests. She worked 16 hours a day and did not get any breaks. She rarely got a day off and even when she did, she was not allowed to leave the house. The employer told Maria that he was always watching and that he would hurt her if she went anywhere besides the hotel or the house without permission.

Options for help

Traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to lure their victims and force them into labor or commercial sexual exploitation. They look for people who are psychologically or emotionally vulnerable, lack a social safety net, or are experiencing natural disasters, economic hardship or political instability. The trauma caused by the traffickers can be so great that many may not identify themselves as victims or ask for help, even in highly public settings. See Recognizing the signs for tips on recognizing victims.


Month 4

Maria missed her family, but she didn’t have access to a phone. And she had been warned not to try to contact them. She also didn’t want her family to know how bad her working and living conditions were. She knew they were probably already worried since she had not sent them any money yet. Her employer kept all of her wages to pay off the cost of her visa and plane ticket. The only money she had was the occasional tips from hotel guests.

Options for help

Victims of human trafficking can get help with:

  • Safe housing,
  • Health care,
  • Immigration visas,
  • Food,
  • Income and employment, and
  • Legal and interpretation services.

T visas are available for survivors of human trafficking who are willing to assist law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of acts of trafficking. For more information, see Applying for T Nonimmigrant Status and Question and Answers: Victims of Human Trafficking

Month 5

The working and living conditions were wearing on Maria. She wanted to escape and to see her children again, but she didn’t think she had many options. She thought about trying to go back home to Venezuela, but she didn’t have her passport or enough money to buy a plane ticket. She started thinking about people that she could ask for help. 

Options for help

The needs of victims of trafficking are among the most complex of crime victims. Survivors often experience severe trauma and financial hardship. They have medical needs, immigration and other legal issues, and safety concerns. They need help getting shelter and meeting other basic daily needs.

For information about the services available to victims of human trafficking, including service referrals in the U.S., visit the Human Trafficking Hotline Referral Directory.


Month 6

Maria had a co-worker at the hotel who was American, but spoke Spanish. When they were waiting for the bus after their shifts one night, Maria worked up the courage to ask her for help. The co-worker didn’t know what trafficking resources were available, so she took Maria to a domestic violence shelter.

Options for help

It's important to recognize the signs of human trafficking. See the Department of Homeland Security's website for information on how to Identify a Victim and Indicators of Human Trafficking.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH) is a 24/7, confidential, multilingual hotline for victims, survivors, and witnesses of human trafficking. The hotline can be reached by:

Phone: 1-888-373-7888
Text: Text HELP to 233733 (BEFREE)

Month 7

The shelter allowed Maria to stay and gave her a few clothing and personal items since she could not go back to the house for her belongings. Shelter staff helped Maria contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline, an organization that helps victims of human trafficking. The organization set Maria up with a legal aid lawyer who started an application for a T visa for Maria and derivative T visas for her children. To meet the requirement for this type of visa, they had to report the labor trafficking crimes against Maria to law enforcement. The lawyer also put Maria in touch with a local social service agency that could help her meet basic needs while she remained undocumented.

Options for help

There are several organizations that provide free assistance and services to victims of human trafficking. For a list of organizations in your area, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH) at 1-888-373-7888.


Sometimes abusers can post sexual photos of victims on public websites without their consent. This is commonly known as revenge porn. View the online removal guide for steps on how to remove these photos and contact the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project for free legal help. 

Month 8

Maria got a caseworker through the local social service agency. The caseworker helped secure temporary housing, food, clothing, and other needs. Maria was interviewed by law enforcement officials. They told her they would follow up if they needed to, but that these types of cases rarely go to court. 

Month 13

Maria’s lawyer filed her T visa application as well as her children’s derivative visa applications. Maria had not been able to work legally because she was still undocumented; however, her day-to-day needs and living expenses were being met through the social service agencies. She was able to communicate with her family again, and she was excited at the possibility of reuniting with them.

Options for help

T visas are set aside for those who are or have been victims of human trafficking and are willing to assist law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of acts of trafficking. For more information, see Applying for T Nonimmigrant Status and Question and Answers: Victims of Human Trafficking


Month 24

Maria received her T visa, and her children received their derivative visas a couple of months after. Her lawyer helped to arrange for her children to come to the U.S. where they were finally reunited with Maria. She was able to qualify for public benefits and apply for jobs.

Options for help

Victims of human trafficking can get help with:

  • Safe housing,
  • Health care,
  • Immigration visas,
  • Food and income, and
  • Legal and interpretation services.

For more information, see Government benefits for immigrants