Global Human Rights Clinic Files Suit to Protect the Rights of Domestic Workers

Behind Closed Doors: The Traumas of Domestic Work in the U.S.

Like other essential workers, domestic workers are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic without the luxury of being able to telework, social distance, or even take a sick day. They also face unique and challenging circumstances due to the nature of their work, which is undervalued and under-regulated by the U.S. government. As a result, domestic workers often endure horrific abuses that go unchecked. Many are brought to the U.S. by employers promising a better life, only to find themselves subjected to forced labor, denied wages, and threatened with deportation. 

Today, the ACLU and the Global Human Rights Clinic joined a coalition of workers’ rights organizations calling on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to acknowledge and address the U.S. government’s failure to protect the rights of domestic workers. These workers are overwhelmingly women of color and/or migrants, and include house cleaners, nannies, caregivers, and others who work out of public view and in their employers’ homes. Below, four domestic workers explain in their own words the all too common abuses that continue unheeded because of the government’s failure to act.


My trafficker was a Malawian diplomat to the U.S. I had known her for years back home in Malawi, where I worked for her as a nanny before coming here. When she was stationed in D.C., she asked me to come with her, promising better opportunities — I could get an education, get a better job, get out and see the world. As a young person, what else could you want? She gave me a contract and travel documents and rushed me to sign them even though I could not speak or understand English at the time. After I was granted an A3 visa, which is a special visa for diplomats’ domestic workers, we left for the U.S., where we moved into a home in a beautiful neighborhood in Silver Spring, Maryland. 

Everything changed when we got to the U.S. My trafficker was no longer the person I knew in Malawi — she turned into a tiger. She forced me to work more than 16 hours per day for less than 40 cents per hour, cooking and cleaning and doing laundry, even ironing the family’s underwear. Who does that?


International human rights