New Advocacy Group to Help Prevent Exploitation of Au Pairs Worldwide: Your thoughts?

by cv harquail on November 19, 2011

HI All-

Two colleagues in the Au Pairing community have initiated a project to help international Au Pairs avoid being exploited.

Talya Shoup Burnett, of Best Au Pair Guide, and Edina Stone of Au Pair Clearinghouse, are partnering to create Prevent Exploitation of Au Pairs (P.E.A.P.). The organization’s purpose is to raise awareness of the exploitation of au pairs, a growing problem in Europe, Asia and in the United States.


The initiative is “in response to the growing frequency of sexual abuse of au pairs.” I have no data on the amount of reported sexual abuse, and no data about the kind of abuse increasing in the au pair community per se.

But, we do know that young women are vulnerable to being exploited by human trafficing and by the world-wide sex trade. As Nicholas Kristoff of The New York Times noted: at least 10 times as many girls are now trafficked into brothels annually as African slaves were transported to the New World in the peak years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

If any young woman thinks she’s becoming an au pair, and then finds herself subject to sexual abuse and assault, that’s one woman too many.

It can be hard for potential au pairs (and potential host families) to find accurate information about becoming an au pair — this is especially true outside the USA, and outside countries that have specific au pair labor policies and work visa requirements. Even when this information is available online, people may struggle to find it. And, it’s not that hard for potential au pairs to think they are working with a trustworthy agent, agency, site, or host family, only to discover that no one has her (or his) best interests in mind.

Every now and then we get a comment here on AuPairMom, where someone ‘advertises’ as a ‘host family’ or au pair web site. Most of the time I delete these because (not only do they violate the comments policy but also) they seem fishy to me.  Just this week we had one, and I missed it. Luckily Anonamomma stepped in to warn everyone…

While I don’t want people to think that sexual abuse of au pairs is common, or for these sorts of alarms to be the first thing that people see about au pairs in their Google searches, potential au pairs need to be vigilant about their safety and their rights.

You can find more details on P. E. A. P.’s Facebook page.

What are your thoughts on this initiative?

Image: Voyage, Attribution Some rights reserved by <cleverCl@i®ê>



Should be working November 19, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Honestly the little info I can see about this new outfit is not so impressive to me. The cases of au pairs in the USA who are given inappropriate tasks (e.g. cleaning parents’ rooms, working more than 45 hours) are still not on a par with widespread human trafficking in southeast Asia and elsewhere. There are, of course, instances in the USA of inappropriate or even abusive behavior but I don’t know that this calls for a whole organization to make people aware of the problem. The same is true of Europe: indeed Europe has far less oversight of au pair abuse because of the largely unregulated operations of agencies and also independent arrangements between au pairs and families, but insofar as an au pair can physically JUST LEAVE a family, this is very very different than human trafficking in my view.

Human trafficking, domestic worker slavery and sexual slavery are big, widespread, important problems that deserve lots of attention and money towards solutions. I don’t know that au pair abuse–at least in the USA and Europe—would merit the same amount of money or attention. Frankly this organization looks to me like a way to advertise au pairs while appealing to people’s do-gooder mentality at the same time.

hOstCDmom November 19, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Agree with SBW.

Dorsi November 20, 2011 at 3:33 am

I agree; there is bad behavior out there, there may even be agencies which ‘look the other way’ in regards to abusive host families. However, there is nothing on par with human trafficking going on in the Au Pair world (that I am aware of — or that I can find examples of on their web site.) The case that is most talked about (a German girl who was subject to unwated touching and advances by a Portland family) is suing an agency because she became quite depressed and suicidal after returing home. There may have been some failure on the part of the agency, and even some civil culpability. There is not, as I see it, criminal misconduct. The Au Pair left the day after she told the agency about the weeks of behavior. APs are adults and there the onus is on them to terminate an abusive living situation. Fortunately, we live in a country where we have a decent rule of law and court system.

Kitty gibbons August 7, 2012 at 5:18 pm

In response to questions about this site: Research wage theft, unpaid labor and basic labor protections. An agency must attempt to provide a worker with basic protections. That is not necessarily guaranteed especially in a country where domestic workers are not covered by basic labor protections. I agree with researching how au pairs are treated and providing them with information for their protection. If you have never worked out of someone’s home, then look more closely at how vulnerable we are.

Anna November 20, 2011 at 10:50 am

Au pairs come to work for families in first- world countries; this is not to say that there is no human trafficking in such countries, but there are laws and protections, that are enforced. Especially in US, where the au pair program is so tightly regulated.

If such an organization exists, it may harm the image of the au pair program if it generates buzz. For one or two cases in the media through the decades that the program was operating, plus this organization, many young women may not choose to be au pairs.

To me it looks like the organization is mostly to PR the websites of the two founders, who are trying to make names for themselves in the au pair industry.

Gianna November 20, 2011 at 5:36 pm

I agree with Anna that this sort of PR is likely to cause more harm than good. I can tell you about another practice much less sinister that I don’t much like – maybe some people will have different thoughts. I refer to promoters who compile lists of aupairs and then give them free access, food and drinks at night clubs all over the big cities.
The aupairs are used as bait to get young men to come to the clubs where the club owners soak the men for exhorbitant fees for drinks. It is nowhere never slave trafficking but I don’t like it and it seems very exploitative to me. But try to tell that to the aupairs who love that night life – the whole business just seems sleazy to me

Talya November 27, 2011 at 6:45 am


As one of the founders of P.E.A.P., I can say we founded this organization in order to be a voice for au pairs and to help encourage education and awareness in order to help keep au pairs from being exploited, whether that exploitation be sexual, or through breaches in the contract (longer working hours than agreed, less vacation then promised, etc.). Exploitation appears in more ways than sexual assualt and abuse.

As a former au pair, I know how vulnerable au pairs are. I worked for what would be considered a great host family, and even I ended up working much longer hours than agreed upon. In fact, with the exception of one girl, all au pairs I knew worked more than they agreed to work. All of them. And we felt that we had no one to turn to and we didn’t really know that we could – and should – stand up for ourselves. I hear from au pairs now who are going through the same thing and don’t know what to do.

P.E.A.P. exists as a support network for au pairs. We know that the vast majority of au pairs are with good families who are not out to abuse their au pairs. However, exploitation does occur and the reality is that au pairs at times need someone to stand up for them and be their voice.

The organization is still in its infancy, so while we flesh out how we will move forward in our support of au pairs and those who are interested in becoming au pairs, we are open to feedback, ideas, and suggestions. The goal of our group is to make a positive difference. And as Au Pair Mom said, even one au pair being subjected to abuse and assault is too many. We agree.

BEmama December 13, 2011 at 5:22 pm

With all due respect, our au pair rarely works all her hours per week. So, for the five or six times per year that she needs to work an 11 as opposed to a 10 hour day, I hope she recognizes that she is not being exploited. Abuse and exploitation are serious charges. Many au pairs may be disappointed at how hard they have to work for their stipend, but that is not exploitation.

JJ Host Mom November 27, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Talya, I see that your goal is to help the minority of au pairs who are being exploited. But honestly, I think that this program already comes with a lot of drama, and that au pairs feed off of each others’ “horror” stories, which, in reality, are often the result of improper expectations of the program (You mean I actually have to work? The agency told me this was an exchange program.), miscommunications (The au pair thought they were off work because their host parent was home, but in fact they were still scheduled to work, but host parent and au pair didn’t talk to clarify this, OR it’s a new host family and they didn’t understand the program rules) and sometimes, just downright immaturity. I don’t think any good can come from a program that potentially adds more drama to au pair relationships.

Yes, I think legitimate au pair exploitation should be stopped, but isn’t that what agencies are for? Isn’t that the point of all of the laws around the au pair programs?

Should be working November 28, 2011 at 2:00 pm

A side note: Talya’s website explains that au pairs don’t necessarily need to be “kid people”, and refers to her own experience as proof that having skills for dealing with kids is more important than enjoying being with kids. This is not the kind of narrative that is going to be popular with host parents–for good reason, in my view–and it does strike me as strange that someone who is not big on kids is so invested in the au pair program.

Janie November 28, 2011 at 3:48 pm

Tayla’s narrative actually makes sense if you consider the goal of the au pair program — which is first and foremost a “cultural exchange”, not a childcare program. If it were the latter, it would be more appropriately housed in the Department of Labor, and you would have to pay taxes and obtain labor certification to hire the worker, increasing your administrative and financial costs. Regrettably, our reliance as a society on the au pair program to provide affordable, flexible full-time childcare program has caused us to lose sight of the original intent of the program. Tayla’s perspective represents the au pairs’ expectations going into the program — that it will afford her/him the coveted opportunity to experience American culture. Unfortunately, that expectation can clash with those held by the host families, who really see this as a labor program with a cultural exchange veneer.

JJ Host Mom November 28, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Janie, I appreciate your oversight. I agree that the example you mentioned was sad, and that kind of thing shouldn’t happen. I would be very upset if any of my own children, or any of the au pairs who are now part of my extended family, were subject to that treatment.

But the fact is, the au pair program is fulltime childcare AND an exchange program. The fact that au pair and host parent perspectives clash about this is what causes 90% of the problems we talk about on this site. This program is only going to work if host parents recognize it’s a cultural exchange AND au pairs recognize it’s a childcare program. Billing it as only a cultural exchange program does everyone a disservice and creates problems, it doesn’t solve them.

cv harquail November 29, 2011 at 5:48 pm

JJ, thanks for reiterating that the au pair program is both childcare and cultural exchange… We all know that the hard work of being an au pair– and the hard work of being a host parent — are often underplayed, while the ‘fun of being in the USA’ and “affordable childcare” are promoted to au pairs and host parents (respectively).

Anna November 28, 2011 at 5:17 pm

However your dress it, which component is “first and foremost”, the fact is that the program requires 45 hour work week with children. This really means that an au pair will work full time with children, and it doesn’t make sense that one who doesn’t like kids should choose this program to see America. There are other ways to see America – Work and Travel program (by the way also a J1 visa, and a small travel grace period after a full time work commitment), a tourist visa, a student exchange.

The facts speak for themselves – with full time childcare component, what kind of “expectations” can wish this component it away?

Now that I am getting wiser, I also, like Taking a Computer Lunch, will only consider au pair candidates who are childcare professionals. My current au pair is such, and she cannot imagine why would someone not in the childcare field would want to become an au pair. While I think this is a bit one-sided, there is a grain of sense in her view. Why would anyone who doesn’t like kids much want to become an au pair?

Should be working November 28, 2011 at 6:33 pm

On the point of considering only AP candidates who are childcare professionals (which is Off Topic/OT for this thread on PEAP):

I went into rematch only once out of three APs, and it was with the only one who WAS a childcare professional. She had lots of preschool teaching experience, was older, and was planning to teach preschool as her career. Sounded good. But in fact she was passionless with my kids. It was just a job, not a dream, no sparkle, no real enthusiasm. She also was depressed, in my perception. Since then I came to see that for our preferences she was probably “too old”–she didn’t have the adventurous sense of our more successful 19-yr-old APs, she just wanted out of her current situation at home. So now I do NOT consider professional childcare to be a prerequisite.

Our current, best-yet AP had extremely little childcare experience outside the family–just a little babysitting with a neighbor. Her own mother was her major reference. BUT she is the almost-oldest in a large, loving family and I decided that that experience was way more important to us than professional childcare. Fortunately I was right. We love her.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 28, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Agreed. It’s a major reason why DH and I only look at special needs willing APs with actual childcare experience. Babysitting is not enough experience for us. We’re not looking to provide English-language experience for business majors. It’s enough of a shock to come to the U.S. and realize that your full-time job is to provide childcare, without the added shock of realizing that one of the children is a teenager in diapers.

Should be working November 28, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Oops, my response just above TACL should have been posted as a reply to TACL–the thread sequence is a bit confusing now. Apologies.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 28, 2011 at 10:09 pm

My experience has been the opposite, but then again, I have a teenager in diapers. I have had 7 APs, all of whom have had extensive childcare experience: 4 had extensive “practicums” as high school students that gave them direct contact with students with special needs, 1 had been a pediatric intensive care nurse, 1 was halfway through a college degree in child psychology, and 1 had done a special 3-year college certificate with practical experience in a kindergarten. All were great with my kids, and all had some sort of special needs experience (as you can imagine, the PICU nurse had the most but had to learn to play with the kids not for them). I only looked into rematch with one, and the lack of driving skills were at the apex of a difficult relationship (when things are going well, one overlooks a lot).

Many of their friends had to deal with the adjustment of a) working full time and b) caring for children full time. I’m not saying they weren’t great with kids – it’s just that in the past 11 years I’ve heard a lot of whining. (Much of which made my APs’ eyes roll, too.)

As for abuse, which is the thread of this discussion, under American law one only has to say “No” once. So, if an AP feels that she is being abused by asking to work more than 45 hours per week, she has to say “No.” If other forms of abuse are occurring then she has to say “No.”

In my opinion, the majority of American families don’t have an abusive relationship with their AP.

There may be times that the AP may feel that she is being abused (e.g. a 22-hour week during the school year becomes a 45-hour week during vacations, a HP says “No” to a request for time off, or she doesn’t have access to the same privileges as her friends), but documenting real abuse begins with the HF, and if that isn’t safe, the LCC or the agency itself. I’m not denying that it happens, I just don’t think it happens MOST of the time. If the AP feels that the abuse is severe, then she shouldn’t hire a second agency, but a lawyer!

Janie November 27, 2011 at 10:53 pm

I think Tayla and Edina’s efforts to bring the problem of au pair exploitation to light should be commended, not criticized. As a law professor whose research expertise is in human trafficking and exploitation of domestic workers, I feel the need to set the record straight regarding some of the misunderstandings I see. First, folks should understand that human trafficking happens right here in the United States, and with alarming frequency in the domestic work context. You don’t have to be physically confined in order to be trafficked — the element of coercion required for trafficking takes many different forms, including psychological coercion. Many trafficking victims technically could physically leave, but are prevented from doing so because of threats to themselves and/or their family members.

Second, to assume that trafficking couldn’t happen in the au pair context places an unwarranted amount of faith in the au pair agencies and U.S. government oversight mechanisms. Though there are more specific regulations of au pairs in the U.S. than in most countries, the U.S. government’s oversight of the au pair agencies is quite limited — in practice, agencies have tremendous discretion over their own activities. Researchers have uniformly concluded that exploitation in the U.S. au pair programs is widespread, and in some cases the exploitation can be quite severe, and perpetrated with impunity because of au pair agency indifference and failure of U.S. State Department oversight.

[ moderator’s note: We have seen no research on exploitation of American au pairs, despite a search of sociological, public health, and social science journal databases. A citation to this research would be helpful.]

Just because you don’t read about it in the press doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen — of all the trafficking cases we see, domestic worker cases (including au pairs) are particularly difficult to expose much less address because this is a population of workers hidden in homes. Au pairs, in particular, tend not to come forward with their complaints of exploitation for a variety of reasons — e.g., their love for the children, the fact that they can leave within a year. Regrettably, I have witnessed severe au pair exploitation by a neighbor and former friend — an au pair who, in addition to working over 45 hours/week during the day, was also responsible for being the only person to get up multiple times during the night, six nights a week, to care for a colicky infant from the time the infant was one month old until he was nine months old. Why did the au pair stay all that time? Because she loved the children. What made her finally leave? Realizing that despite all of her labor, she was not really “part of the family” — this family abandoned her in an airport across the country after she was forced off their return flight by flight attendants who deemed her too physically ill to fly… And what did the au pair agency do in response to finding out about this situation? They gave the family a new au pair.

Exposing the possibility of exploitation of au pairs in America is not unnecessary “drama” … increasing public awareness about this kind of risk is essential if we are to prevent trafficking and forced labor in this country.

Edina Stone November 28, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Thanks Janie for your supportive and most articulate comment! There are many stories of exploitation and abuse of au pairs that are part of the daily fabric in the au pair community – and just because you don’t hear or read about it, doesn’t mean abuse is not taking place. Abuse exists.

With P.E.A.P, we want to make a real difference about lowering the risks of au pair abuse and exploitation and as CV said, “If any young woman thinks she’s becoming an au pair, and then finds herself subject to sexual abuse and assault, that’s one woman too many.”

As a mother and a woman who has a daughter, this project has a special meaning to me. I want P.E.A.P. to be a voice for au pairs worldwide – we can really make a difference in this world, if we open ourselves up to the many challenges that are out there calling for our help and attention and hard work.

Talya and I are really hoping that the au pair community will get behind P.E.A.P.’s mission to educate and make au pairs aware of potential exploitation so they will have a safe, happy and secure year abroad. Most parents would want the same thing for their daughters if they were to travel to a foreign country where they had to depend and rely on the kindness of host parents and strangers.

We challenge all those in the au pair community to share and support P.E.A.P’s goals and mission and we would ask Au Pair Mom if she would join us in this endeavor by posting P.E.A.P’s logo link on this website! Thanks so much for your consideration to support Prevent Exploitation of Au Pairs!

Best, Edina Stone, co-founder of P.E.A.P.

Edina Stone December 3, 2011 at 9:54 am

CV – I read your moderator’s note in Janie’s comment about exploitation of au pairs in the USA and the fact you were unable to find anything mention of abuse in the USA. As you know, I recently sent you two incidents of documented abuse of young au pairs (both were 18 at the time of their sexual assault by host fathers) in a comment that you chose not to publish. Its difficult, if not impossible, to have an equal and fair debate on your blog when you edit readers’ comments and pick and choose which comments you want to share. In the slim chance this comment will be posted, readers can find evidence of au pair exploitation on my website,, or just
visit P.E.A.P.

hOstCDmom December 3, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Isolated incidences are just that – a limited number of individual events, which may well be deplorable — not RESEARCH. Research studies are conducted with peer review, standard methodology, and published results.

I don’t know CV, so I have nothing invested in “defending her” but as reader of this blog I read her comment as responding to this statement in the post in which she replied:

“Researchers have uniformly concluded that exploitation in the U.S. au pair programs is widespread”

I too wondered about what research studies are out there and would very much appreciate being directed to them, as my seraching also did not turn up such studies.

cv harquail December 3, 2011 at 8:42 pm

Hi hOstCDmon-

Thanks for your comment — your interpretation of my intent was right on.

As a scientist myself, I take it very seriously when someone says “researchers have uniformly concluded….”. When I cannot find published research studies sharing the data for these ‘uniform conclusions’, even when searching the databases of professional & academic journals, I feel that I must mention this rather than let the sweeping claim stand.

Again, the issue is not whether any au pair has ever been exploited, but more about the claims to exploitation being “widespread”, especially without any definitions, surveys, or statistics.

What I find over and over again, from readers of the blog and folks who email with questions, is that what IS widespread is concern for au pairs and their wellbeing, and for creating a strong and positive relationship between the host family and the au pair.

Should be working December 5, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Thanks, CV, for the balanced approach.

In addition, the “one too many” argument is not very persuasive to me regarding this new organization. We have “one too many” of many kinds awful phenomena and abuses of all sorts against all sorts of people, but not each one deserves their own organization–nor is that the most efficient way to prevent such events from happening.

cv harquail December 3, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Once again you assume, without checking, that some nefarious thing has been done to you and/ or your comment. Any comment that has more than 3 links to outside pages is automatically detained by the spam filter. Your comment was detained automatically by the spam filter.

If people are interested in the news stories about the two incidents you mention, I recommend that they go to your site or to Google to find these.

If you would like to host a debate on your blog about whether or not there is sexual exploitation of au pairs, please go ahead. While readers of AuPairMom are concerned about the au pair community and doing their best for their au pairs, neither the type nor the tone of debate that you are looking for would be interesting to readers here.

This post was written to alert readers to your initiative and direct them to your facebook page, as a courtesy to you and as a resource for the au pairs who read this blog. Please continue the discussion on the PEAP page.

anonamomma December 4, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Well said CV

KM December 7, 2011 at 12:13 pm


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