Two bright, innocent, pretty 14-year-old girls have spent several days interacting via social media about an upcoming high school basketball game they were going to attend. At the game they met a handsome 18-year-old boy who flattered and charmed these two impressionable young girls. (The boy is a sex trafficking ‘recruiter,’ himself a victim of sex trafficking, now under the control of an adult pimp. He has secretly been following the girls on social media.)
He focused on the girl that he found to be more susceptible to his charms. Over the next several weeks he had multiple contacts with her. He bought her gifts, drove her around in his fancy car and took her to nice places. She began to fall in love with him. He then explained the process (‘initiation’) of making money for sexual favors. She was infatuated with him and she agreed to engage in the behavior for the promise of his continued love for her.
She was introduced to the adult pimp. He provided drugs and more gifts but also threatened her and her family if she did not comply with his demands. She was also forced to recruit some of her friends into ‘the life.’ People in her real life noticed her having extra money, new tattoos, new clothes, new older friends, irritability, isolation, withdrawal and difficulty with eye contact but attributed these to her going through a ‘phase’ of her adolescence.
This form of coercion works to recruit and initiate the victim into the life of a sex worker, while also reinforcing a “trauma bond,” also known as Stockholm syndrome. Stockholm syndrome is a psychological response where the victim becomes attached to her perpetrator.
The goal of the trafficker is to turn a human being into a slave. To do this, he employs tactics that can lead to the psychological consequence of learned helplessness for the victims, where they sense that they no longer have any autonomy or control over their lives. He may hold his victims captive, expose them to large amounts of alcohol and drugs, keep them in isolation, or withhold food or sleep. During this time the victim often begins to feel the onset of depression, guilt, self-blame, anger and rage, sleep disturbances, PTSD, numbing, and extreme stress. Under these pressures, the victim can fall into the hopeless mental state of learned helplessness but can still live at home and attend school.
Modern-day slavery victims experience complex trauma as a result of repeated instances of sexual abuse, domestic violence, forced prostitution, or gang rape over long periods of time. Complex trauma involves multifaceted conditions of depression, anxiety, self-hatred, antisocial behavior, over-sexualized behavior, self-harm, aggression, distrust of adults, dissociative disorders, substance abuse, attention deficit disorders, medical and somatic concerns, despair and revictimization. Although similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complex trauma is more expansive in diagnosis because of the effects of prolonged trauma.
There is treatment for victims of complex trauma. Treatment must be comprehensive and may come in the form of residential placement or out-patient individual and group psychotherapy. A very successful and well researched form of therapy is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR). EMDR addresses and adaptively reprocesses the sensations, feelings, beliefs and thoughts which were damaged as the result of traumatic experiences.
For more information or to contact a therapist at the Birmingham Maple Clinic go to www.BirminghamMaple.com.
Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force (www.mhttf.org)
Polaris Project (www.polarisproject.org)
National Trafficking Hotline, 888-373-7888
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 1-800-THE-LOST
BeFree Textline (233733)
Learn about EMDR, find an EMDR certified therapist (www.emdria.org )
More About the Author:
Dan O’Neil is a Masters prepared psychologist who works with adolescents and adults. His great passion is helping people resolve past traumas that are impacting their current life. Dan works with sexual addiction, sexual abuse (victims and perpetrators), PTSD, anxiety and depression. Dan knows that no single approach is the right one for every client. He uses Cognitive- Behavioral therapy, EMDR therapy (EMDRIA certified therapist) and Internal Family Systems therapy. Dan is a long-time clinical member of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA). He performs evaluations and risk assessments for those involved in the criminal justice system for sexually related issues.
Bio photo courtesy of Birmingham Maple Clinic