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Five Ways the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Crisis Impacts Human Trafficking Survivors and Immigrant Communities

May 21, 2020
By Rachel Searle

The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic has made human trafficking survivors and immigrant communities across the United States more vulnerable to abuse and violence. At Safe Horizon’s Anti-Trafficking Program (ATP), we are growing increasingly worried about the direct, indirect, short, and long-term effects of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) on these survivors. While our comprehensive team of attorneys and social workers are helping survivors access the resources and information they need during this difficult time, we need your help to bring awareness to this critical issue. Below are five ways COVID-19 (Coronavirus) impacts human trafficking survivors, and three things you can do to help trafficking survivors.

1. Survivors are More Afraid of Traffickers

While the city’s “Stay at Home Order” keeps many safe, it can endanger victims of human trafficking. Survivors who live in close quarters with their traffickers regularly report domestic violence and other abuse. Other survivors, like *Maria, say that staying home makes it easier for their former traffickers to retaliate. In the weeks leading up to the pandemic, Maria testified against her former trafficker in federal court, which also triggered her PTSD and depression. This sustained state of fear has caused Maria to experience physical illness and impacted the well-being of her children. She is concerned that if the traffickers retaliate, first responders will be too overwhelmed with COVID-19 (Coronavirus) cases to help her.

2. Survivors are Afraid to Seek Out Help

Long before the pandemic, human trafficking survivors and immigrant communities lived in a heightened state of fear due to the political climate and the rhetoric against them. Survivors hesitated in accessing support for fear that they would be reported to immigration authorities or prohibited from becoming permanent residents. The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) crisis has increased this fear. Survivors’ reluctance to seek help from public systems increases their risk of enduring more abuse while quarantined with their traffickers or avoiding healthcare services entirely. For example, a survivor would not see a doctor or go to the hospital because they worry the doctor would report them to authorities or it would be used against them.

3. Survivors Can’t Find Information and Resources

Human trafficking survivors who do want to reach out for help, find it difficult to find information because crisis communications are often not inclusive of all languages, literacies, and abilities. With no way of learning about protections against COVID-19 (Coronavirus), human trafficking survivors are at danger of self-isolating with few resources – which puts their lives at risk. One of our clients named *Nadia could not find information about COVID-19 in her language, and as a result, was cut off from information and supplies. With two children who are immunocompromised, she worried that leaving the house would infect them and came close to starvation. After speaking with one of our social workers, she learned of options for delivery and how to safely leave the house.

4. Survivors Become Economically Disadvantaged

Human trafficking survivors, who previously may have had a stable life, are now working at reduced hours or are being laid off due to COVID-19 (Coronavirus). If they aren’t working, survivors are on the verge of being unemployed and homeless, and therefore more susceptible to being trafficked again. Labor trafficking survivor *Bertha lost her job as a home health aide due to COVID-19 and has been receiving threats of eviction from her landlord ever since. Despite the ban on evictions in New York City, she fears that no one can stop her landlord from evicting her. This fear led her to borrow rent money from a friend – an action that increases risk of trafficking.

5. Survivors Face Additional Exploitation or Risk of Re-trafficking

With little economic means, trafficking survivors are at an increased risk of being re-trafficked. According to the International Organization for Migration’s report on re-trafficking, over half of the re-trafficked persons they interviewed described their economic status as poor or very poor. In addition, labor trafficking survivors can be further exploited because they don’t know their rights. We created this handy graphic you can share so everyone knows their rights:

Workers Rights Infographic_Human Trafficking COVID

All workers, regardless of immigration status, are entitled to be paid for the hours they work, paid at least minimum wage, protected by accommodations and safety measures, protected against discrimination, and paid for overtime if they are working more than 40 hours of work per week.


Three Things You Can Do to Help Human Trafficking Survivors During COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

With no certainty of when the pandemic will end, these situations for human trafficking survivors and immigrant communities are likely to continue. Now, more than ever, we need to help each other – and the good news is, we can! Here are three ways you can help human trafficking survivors during COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.

1. Donate to Organizations that Support Human Trafficking Survivors

Safe Horizon’s Anti-Trafficking Program is one of the largest direct service providers to victims of human trafficking on the east coast. We see survivors from over 80 countries through the most difficult times of their lives. If you can, please donate below or contribute to our Amazon Wishlist which was created to provide specific items for our clients’ current needs.

Donate to Help Survivors


Other human trafficking organizations you can contribute to include the Freedom Network and the New York Immigration Coalition.

2. Share News, Resources, and Information

Sharing news, information, and survivor resources from verified, reputable sources will dispel rumors, relax fears, and give survivors a lifeline. More resources. Let your network know that help is available at Safe Horizon’s Anti-Trafficking Program. If you speak to someone who is being mistreated by an employer, share our workers rights graphic or direct them to the DOJ to let them know what their rights are. This is especially important as people will be more desperate for work opportunities and could easily exploited or trafficked.

Some other resources include:

3. Get Politically Active

Call on government officials to protect immigrant communities. Call your representatives and tell them that immigrants should be included in any future stimulus bills. Urge them to prioritize comprehensive reform to immigration laws to help lessen their vulnerability in the future. You can also sign online petitions from reputable organizations like Amnesty International which call for protections of rights.

Even as we begin to adjust to life after COVID-19 (Coronavirus), please keep the above suggestions in mind. There is much that can be done throughout the U.S. to protect and help immigrant communities.

* Client names and identifying information have been changed to protect their privacy. Images used are representations of Safe Horizon’s clients.

  • Rachel Searle

    Rachel Searle is a Staff Attorney with the Anti Trafficking Program at Safe Horizon. She graduated from New York Law School in 2017 and is an alumna of the Immigrant Justice Corps Fellowship. Rachel's career has focused on advocating for immigrant survivors of trafficking, domestic violence, and other injustices.