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Signs Of Exploitation: What Family Employers Should Avoid And Look For With Domestic Staff

A grand jury indicted three Virginia family members on charges of "conspiracy, forced labor, and document servitude".

According to the indictment, the three conspired to hold a woman, who was married to the son of one of the defendants, captive from March 2002 to August 2014. They allegedly forced her to work in their home, cleaning the house, painting the house, and mowing the lawn.

For 12 years, the defendants allegedly physically, psychologically, and verbally abused the victim; withheld food from her; kept her from talking to family and neighbors; confiscated her immigration and identification documents; limited her ability to see her own children; and threatened to take her children away from her.

The defendants face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of forced labor. They would also be required to provide restitution to the victim. "Three Members Of Virginia Family Arrested and Charged with Conspiring to Force Victim to Labor in Their Home for Years" justice.gov (Jun. 07, 2019).

Commentary and Checklist

Domestic workers, especially immigrants, are particularly vulnerable to forced labor and domestic slavery because they are often kept away from the public.

When family employers prevent domestic workers from leaving the home; do not pay all wages due; threaten or abuse them; keep their identity documents where they cannot access them; limit their contact with family members; and/or force them to work against their will, family employers run the risk of charges of exploitation or slavery.

Family employers also play a role in preventing exploitation. Your family may see signs of domestic exploitation by others or your staff may see it. Knowing the signs is important. If you see the signs, contact the department of labor in your state or local law enforcement.

Signs include someone who is:

  • Afraid of police or other legal authorities;
  • Afraid of the family employer;
  • Exhibiting signs of physical and psychological trauma (i.e., anxiety, bruising, untreated conditions);
  • Fearful of talking about his or her situation;
  • Unpaid or paid very little;
  • Unable to access medical care;
  • Without a passport or mentions that someone else is holding it;
  • Regularly moved around to different work locations;
  • Lacking the appropriate documentation to be working in the United States;
  • Not being paid at least the highest of the local, state or federal minimum wage;
  • Prevented from returning to his or her country of origin;  
  • Locked in a room or area of the house; or
  • Prohibited from leaving the home.
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