Layers of Violence: Precarious Lives of Latina Migrants


At the beginning of the twentieth century, human trafficking was narrowly understood within the construct of the myth of “white slavery.” Discourses on “white slavery” portrayed trafficking victims as white, virginal, innocent, and naïve women who were lured into situations of forced sexual commerce.1 Historians posit that the idea of “white slavery” reflected anxieties surrounding women’s independence, mobility, and sexual freedom.2 According to Amalia L. Cabezas with Dolores Ortiz and Sonia Valencia, “At the beginning of the twenty-first century many of the same fears are in place, with the exception that now the victim has a brown face.”2

Cabezas aptly captures the U.S. fixations on immigration restriction and sexual morality, which have remained largely unchanged over the last century, in her parallel between the historical myth of “white slavery” and the contemporary hysteria surrounding Latina migration.2 Migrant women from Latin America are hyper-represented in U.S. human-trafficking narratives,2  and while the national obsession with this issue may be rooted in unfounded beliefs about Latina sexuality, the vulnerabilities that often lead to human trafficking, both in and outside of the sex industry, are very much a reality for Latin American women in the United States.3 Contributing to their vulnerability are the multiple layers of violence that Latina women endure in their native countries, from which they are impelled to flee, as well as during their precarious journey north, and finally in the United States, where they are viewed as hyper-sexual criminals, quite unlike the virginal, innocent victims of the “white-slave” myth.

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Failed by the Government: Guatemalan Minors Placed into Custody of Traffickers

In December 2014, authorities found ten Guatemalan migrants, eight of whom were minors, living in dilapidated, unsanitary trailers in Marion, Ohio.1 The children had been smuggled into the United States, some of them lured by the promise of education.2 However, after entering into US custody, the victims soon found themselves living in squalor and working in forced-labor conditions at Trillium Farms, one of the United States’ largest egg producers.2

The victims were forced to live in substandard trailers, “in order to keep the victims under the Defendants’ control, to isolate them from others, and to force them to pay more money… in the form of rent, in addition to their smuggling debts,” which, for some of the victims, were secured by the retention of deeds to their parents’ properties in Guatemala.2 Threatened with violence, including harm to their families, the victims were forced to perform physically-demanding labor for twelve hours per day, six or seven days a week.2 They were made to surrender their paychecks, receiving only small amounts of money for food and other needs.2 According to the federal criminal indictment, “the Defendants used a combination of threats, humiliation, deprivation, financial coercion, debt manipulation, and monitoring to establish a pattern of domination and control over the victims, to create a climate of a fear and helplessness that would compel their compliance with the conspirators’ orders, and to isolate them from anyone who might intervene to protect them from the conspirators and expose the conspirators’ unlawful acts.”2

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