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Victims of both sex and labor trafficking may be found in hostess bars and strip clubs in the United States. Hostess bars or cantinas may be open to the public, sell food and drinks, and offer music and dancing.

In both hostess bars and strip clubs, labor trafficking may be present if victims are forced to dance, serve as hostesses, or sell drinks and/or food.

Sex trafficking may occur if victims are forced to provide commercial sex to the club patrons by a trafficker, in addition to his or her work as a dancer or hostess.

Victims may be U.S. citizens, undocumented immigrants, or foreign nationals with tourist, summer work, or entertainment group visas. Though the victims tend to be adult women, some of these networks also exploit minors.

Scroll down to read more in the overview below.

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When does it become trafficking?

A job in a bar or cantina becomes trafficking when the employer uses force, fraud, or coercion to maintain control over the worker and to cause the worker to believe that he or she has no other choice but to continue with the work. Common elements of force, fraud or coercion in bars and clubs situations include:

Force: Physical or sexual abuse; restrictions on movement and communication with friends and family; constant surveillance; lack of medical treatment for work related injury or illness.

Fraud: False promises of a different job; misrepresentation of the working conditions, wages, and immigration benefits of the job; altered or fake contracts; non-payment, underpayment or confiscation of wages; visa fraud.

Coercion: Threats of harm to the victim or the victim’s family or friends; threats of deportation confiscation of passports and visas; debt increased through various fees to the club or driving networks.

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 within the bar and club industry. Some examples of these include (and are not limited by):

Immigration Status: Many hostess bars and strip clubs cater to customer bases from specific cultural backgrounds and recruit victims from the same cultures (e.g. Asian hostess bars). For these populations, traffickers often use the threat of deportation as well as document confiscation to maintain control of foreign national victims. Some victims enter the U.S. with fraudulent visas procured through organized crime or a recruiter, leaving them particularly vulnerable to threats of deportation and unlikely to seek help from the police. Additionally, traffickers prey on immigrant workers’ unfamiliarity with the language, laws and customs of the US to further manipulate or exploit them.

Industry Vulnerabilities

Traffickers conduct their trafficking operations in a wide range of industries, utilizing both legitimate and illegitimate venues and means of operation. Various industries are faced with challenges or weakness that can be used by traffickers as enabling factors for human trafficking. Examples of recurring vulnerabilities within the bar and club industry include (and are not limited to):

Organized Crime: Hostess bars and strip clubs within specific ethnic networks are often tied to organized crime. Women are frequently told they owe money to the network, and failure to pay will result in harm to them and/or their families. These organized crime networks have a history of demonstrated violence and retaliation that furthers victims’ fear of reporting.