Source: Wikimedia Commons
The psychological effects of human trafficking begin the moment a person is forced to work without a means to escape against their will. This psychological trauma is often stacked on top other physical and emotional forms of abuse, but for the sake of this article, the topic will remain limited to the topic of psychological abuse amassed by victims and its continuity into their state as a survivor of trafficking.
One of the first questions that outside observers struggle to understand is “Why didn’t the victim just leave?” or “Why didn’t they just run away?” What these observers and many psychologists do not understand is that the people pimping these victims are experts at manipulating and controlling people. These pimps are smarter than us in the sense that they understand how people’s minds operate and are excellent at taking advantage of their knowledge and using it to hold people in varying forms of slavery. As an article from the American Psychological Association notes, pimps utilize crafty methods of coercion to take control of their victims, including denial to provide basic necessities of life, verbal or physical abuse, forced isolation, and unwavering work. The article also highlights that large numbers of survivors that worry about threats to their family and friends, even after their traffickers are in custody. These forms of repression leave lasting trauma on human trafficking survivors.
In a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the prominence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition originally diagnosed for war veterans or disaster victims, in human trafficking survivors is due largely in part to the large amount of trauma these people endured while in slavery, which affects them for the rest of their lives. One study from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London (IoPPN) found that out of the 133 trafficking survivors that they studied, the most common diagnosis of the 51% of victims who had been sexual exploited was that of PTSD at varying rates in adults and children, 39% and 27% respectively. The second most common diagnosis was that of depression, with 34% of adults and 27% of children experiencing this mental disorder. In addition, schizophrenia was found in 15% of the patients. Clearly, the trauma accumulated from human trafficking has some lasting effects. One study published on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website illustrates that high levels of PTSD, anxiety, and depression were more prominent in those who fell victims of injury or sexual violence while being trafficked. In addition, it was concluded that increased time in trafficking resulted in higher levels of anxiety and depression, while increased time since trafficking saw a decline in these two mental states, but with no change in PTSD. This is interesting, as it illustrates that some of the effects of PTSD may go away with time; whereas, the condition itself will not.
As a report from the NGO Austra shows, this trauma grows and is compounded if not properly treated, resulting in some very complex forms of trauma. As asserted in the report, it is extremely rare to find a trafficking victim who did not have untreated trauma prior to becoming trafficked. As a result, these victims have extreme cases of trauma which only compound over time, which manifest into many behavioral or psychological problems, including PTSD, depression, absence of emotional reactions, anxiety, self-blame, helplessness and meaninglessness, nightmares, suicidal ideas and attempts, paranoia, Stockholm syndrome, and many more troubling mental conditions. While over time some of these effects can be eliminated with proper treatment, a survivor is never fully released from the sometimes debilitating grasp of PTSD.
Human Trafficking related trauma can be debilitating to survivors if not properly treated, but with some counseling, therapy, and treatment, the effects of the trauma can and will decrease overtime, despite PTSD never fully disappearing.