11 Photos Of A Woman Who Survived Modern-Day Slavery In New York City

Editor’s note: Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. To learn more about how to eradicate and prevent slavery in the U.S., visit the American Civil Liberties Union.

When we think of human trafficking, more often than not we think of people who have been bought, sold, and forced to perform sexual acts. But while sexual slavery is a horrifying form of exploitation that is all too prevalent around the world, forced labor may in fact be a more common form of human trafficking. And it could be happening right outside your window.

A modern-day slave is often hidden in plain sight. You may even have met one today — according to anti-trafficking organization the Polaris Project, some of the most common hubs of labor trafficking are domestic labor, farms, restaurants, and even health and beauty services.

Photographer Xyza Bacani spent several months documenting the daily reality of survivors of labor trafficking in New York City. In photos, she tells the story of Daisy Benin Santos, a woman who was trafficked from the Philippines in 2008 and spent two years in captivity before she escaped.

Benin Santos told Bacani she had been tricked. Promised a lucrative job in a hotel in Missouri, Benin Santos paid thousands of dollars to her trafficker to bring her into the country legally. Instead, the trafficker let Benin Santos’ work visa expire (leaving her undocumented), and took her to Panama, FL, where Benin Santos was forced to work as a cleaner. Her trafficker took the little money Benin Santos made and put it towards exorbitant charges for rent and food, keeping Benin Santos firmly locked in debt bondage.

“The hardest part for [these women] was the feeling of hopelessness,” Bacani told Refinery29 by email. She added that the stories hit close to home: “There were some scenes where it’s like a flashback of my life.”

Bacani, a native of the Philippines, spent close to a decade working as a domestic servant in Hong Kong, although she wasn’t trafficked. As a free laborer, Bacani had the ability to leave her employers if she wanted, and to pursue her own dreams and education on the side. But as a laborer and a migrant, Bacani connects to these women’s experiences. “I’ve been on both sides,” she said. “That gives me an extra perspective [on] these women’s stories.”

Andrea Panjwani works with survivors of trafficking every day. She’s a managing attorney for My Sister’s Place, a New York-based organization that aids survivors. She told Refinery29 that immigrants are especially vulnerable to being trafficked. “They may not have the language [skills], or any sense…that they have a right to labor protections even though they’re not documented,” Panjwani said.

“Labor trafficking is a very significant problem in the U.S.,” she explained, estimating that there are tens of thousands of people trafficked in the New York City area alone. Panjwani said the problem has grown so large because: “Everyone benefits. We have cheaper products and services because people are trafficked.” And the fact that the practice is so widespread makes it hard to identify and help victims.

“Human labor trafficking victims are hard to pinpoint because some of them don’t have physical proof that they are victims,” Bacani says. “How should a victim look? We’ll never know.”

As for Benin Santos, she’s finally free from forced labor. After escaping her traffickers, she found work for a new family in New York City before finally returning home to the Philippines to live with her three daughters. “She loves her children so much,” Bacani said of Benin Santos. “I’m really happy for her.”

Ahead, powerful photos that tell the story of Dasiy Benin Santos.


Daisy Benin Santos cleans her new employer’s house, with the NYC skyline as a background. When she was trafficked, she said she felt like her life was always in chaos. Now, she is freely working for a new family.

New York City
June 27, 2015

Photo: Xyza Bacani/Redux


When Daisy first arrived in the U.S. on February 22, 2008, she was supposed to work in the Grand Plaza Hotel in Branson, MO. Her recruiter took her to Panama, FL instead.

New York City
June 27, 2015.

Photo: Xyza Bacani/Redux


Another nanny and a child arrive for a playdate with the children Daisy watches.

New York City
June 27, 2015.

Photo: Xyza Bacani/Redux


During the time Daisy was trafficked, she was forced to live with 12 other people crammed into a tiny apartment. She remembers the standard of living as terrible.

New York City
June 27, 2015

Photo: Xyza Bacani/Redux


Daisy has been nannying for this new family for four years, after escaping her traffickers.

New York City
June 27, 2015.

Photo: Xyza Bacani/Redux


Daisy talks to her youngest daughter, still back in the Philippines, every day.

Queens, NY
July 06, 2015

Photo: Xyza Bacani/Redux


Daisy and her friend Cherry share their experiences as trafficking survivors.

Queens, NY
July 6, 2015

Photo: Xyza Bacani/Redux


Daisy attends a human trafficking event after mass at Saint James church. A practicing Catholic, she attends mass every Sunday.

Queens, NY
July 06, 2015.

Photo: Xyza Bacani/Redux


Daisy lives in a tiny bedroom in Queens, New York City. She’s trying to save money to reunite with her children. Her walls are covered with photos of her three daughters.

Queens, NY
July 02, 2015

Photo: Xyza Bacani/Redux


The remaining members of another group of trafficking victims, known as the Florida 15, all live together in this home in Jersey City. They can’t afford the high cost of rent in New York City.

Jersey City
June 3, 2015

Photo: Xyza Bacani/Redux


Daisy has three daughters, with whom she skypes. She went without seeing her children for seven years, until she was recently able to reunite with them in the Philippines.

Queens, NYC
July 21, 2015

To learn more about victims of human trafficking and what you can do to help, visit My Sister’s Place or The Polaris Project.

Photo: Xyza Bacani/Redux

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