Residential Brothels

Residential brothels are typically informal underground businesses operating out of residential and non-commercial areas. Residential brothels may be located in homes, apartment complexes, condos or trailers. They are located in urban, suburban and rural settings. 

This type of brothel requires women to live and sleep at the brothel’s location 24/7 with limited ability to leave the residence.

Residential brothels often rely on extra security and supervision to control the victim’s movement and activities. Victims are regularly moved to new brothel locations to avoid detection by community members and ensure victims remain unfamiliar with their surroundings.

Scroll down to read more in the overview below.


Who are the traffickers?

Residential brothels are generally decentralized systems run by criminal trafficking groups and operate transnationally. Most residential brothels are closed networks, in that they target victim populations and customer bases which share the same cultural or ethnic backgrounds. For example, the NHTRC has received reports of residential brothels catering to the Latino community. The traffickers in these networks are from Central America and Mexico and have connections with the families or are from the same hometowns the victims. 

Who are the facilitators?

Residential brothels rely on the support of additional individuals who take on specific roles. These facilitators are connected the traffickers who run operations and may have various levels of knowledge about the day-to-day operations of the trafficking network. Residential brothels rely on support for transportation, recruitment, and surveillance.

How are residential brothels advertised?

Rather than advertising online or through newspapers, they distribute business cards or “tarjetas” and also publicize their existence through word-of-mouth. Business cards and printed advertisements are frequently veiled under the mask of an alternative business, using code language to indicate how to access commercial sex through this network.

Who are the victims?

Human trafficking victims in residential brothels are predominately female. They often forced to provide commercial sex to high volumes of men daily. In this network, the victims are frequently women and children from Latin America, though not exclusively. Women in residential brothels are commonly recruited into the network by traffickers posing as boyfriends who feign romance and affection. Others are recruited in their home countries through false job promises in the U.S. Women already living in the U.S. may also be targeted through print advertisements or word of mouth.

Victim Vulnerabilities

Human trafficking spans all victim demographics and the vulnerabilities traffickers exploit are unique and specific to each victim (e.g. a developmental disorder, past child abuse, cultural beliefs). However, the NHTRC sees recurring vulnerabilities among sex trafficking victims in residential brothels. Some examples of these include (and are not limited by):

Immigration Status: Frequently, the women within residential brothels are undocumented. They may have come to the U.S. on a legitimate visa, a false visa provided to them by traffickers, or they may have been smuggled across the border. In many cases, their passport or identification documents have been confiscated by the trafficker, further increasing their vulnerability. Without legal status, the women frequently are taught by traffickers to fear and distrust police or government authorities.

Economic Hardship: Residential brothel networks often target women experiencing financial hardship, exploiting women’s need to care financially for family members.

Frequent Movement & Disorientation: Typically, women are not aware of or familiar with their surroundings because they are made to live and sleep at the brothel location and are not allowed to leave except when transported to a new brothel location.

When does it become trafficking?

Trafficking occurs when traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to maintain control over women in the brothel and to force them to engage in commercial sex acts  Common means of control include:

Force: Complete isolation in the residential brothel; regular and frequent transportation to other brothels or other cities by drivers working for the trafficking network; restrictions on communication to family; physical or sexual abuse; forced abortions; lack of healthcare and reproductive healthcare.

Fraud: False promises of a better life; false promises by a trafficker presenting as a boyfriend.

Coercion: Debt manipulation; threats of harm to the victim or victim’s family; threats to shame the victim by revealing the commercial sex to his or her family and others in the community;  threats of deportation and arrest; confiscation of passports and visas; rumors of or witnessed violence at hands of traffickers used as threats.

* An individual under the age of 18 engaged in commercial sex is considered a victim of sex trafficking regardless of the presence of force, fraud or coercion. 

Human Trafficking Hotline Statistics


signals were received by the Hotline in 2021. Includes calls, texts, and online chats and tips.

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