Psychological Consequences Of Human Trafficking And Prostitution

Exposure to violent and nonviolent forms of abuse. Traffickers frequently use a combination of nonviolent and violent forms of coercion like those used by perpetrators of domestic violence, torture, and cults.2 Like abusive partners, traffickers alternate acts of kindness with unexpected abuse and degradation. Like cult leaders, traffickers isolate people and force victims to witness abuses perpetrated on others. Schwartz, Williams, and Farley23 illustrate through case examples how traffickers and pimps use the same methods of mind control as those used by torturers to keep their victims under control including social isolation, sensory deprivation, deliberately induced exhaustion and physical debilitation, threats to self and family, occasional reprieves and indulgences, pimps and traffickers posturing as omnipotent, degradation, enforcing capricious rules, the deliberate creation of dissociated parts of the self who willingly prostitute, drugging and forced addiction, and forced pregnancy. Violent forms of abuse include physical and sexual abuse, often equivalent to the experiences of survivors of torture in the context of war. The Nicaraguan woman referred to earlier described how her trafficker deliberately broke one of her leg bones in order to prevent her escape. Another trafficked woman described how she was forced to service as many as thirty-five sex buyers a day, which kept her in a permanent state of exhaustion. "I couldn't even fully open my eyes sometimes," she stated. "I couldn't think, and sometimes I forgot where I was."

Related mental health problems. A nine-country study of prostitution found that 68% of women, men, and transgendered people in prostitution had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a prevalence that is comparable to that among battered or raped women seeking help and survivors of state-sponsored torture.1 Across widely varying cultures on five continents the traumatic consequences of prostitution were similar whether prostitution was legal, tolerated, or illegal. Hossain and colleagues24 interviewed 204 trafficked girls and women in seven European countries and found that 77% met criteria for PTSD with high comorbidity rates for depression and anxiety.

As a result of multiple experiences of betrayal by family, community, and governmental agencies, trafficking survivors and prostituted women have difficulties in establishing trusting relationships, which in turn presents many challenges for health care professionals. Loss of control can leave survivors of trauma feeling powerless and helpless.25 Human trafficking victims lose control of many parts of their lives and may experience long-term relational consequences as a result. Treating this patient population poses unique challenges, as the therapy relationship will inevitably create a power differential.26 Therefore, in cases of human trafficking and prostitution, therapists will also need to consider frameworks that address the relational abuses and lifetime social injustices that these populations have faced.

Friendly Persuasion

Friendly Persuasion

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