As a clinical psychologist, I have over the years treated women who were trafficked or sold through prostitution, sometimes by their own parents, beginning in childhood. The slavery causes untold damage to self-esteem, confidence, and independent ability.
Human slavery impacts the victim in a myriad of ways. There are medical and physical issues, including wounds, burns, and fractures. Gastrointestinal conditions include Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Crohn’s Disease, weight loss and malnutrition. Reproductive issues include sexually-transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies and forced abortions, genital trauma and sexual dysfunction.
Of course there is a wide array of psychological problems, including Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and suicidal ideation, and self-harming behaviors. Victims experience fearfulness and anxiety, insomnia and night terrors, flashbacks, hostility, eating disorders and hyper-vigilance. There are attachment disorders and difficulties in parenting their children. Victims of trauma also experience depersonalization or derealization, feeling detached from others, from reality, or even from themselves. They experience distortions in their experience of time and/or distance. Dissociative disorders include memory loss, and Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder).
We can also see high risk behaviors, difficulty maintaining healthy relationships, and impaired social skills. There can be delayed physical or cognitive development if the trafficking began in childhood. Also, the victims often bond with their traffickers or with other victims in the trafficker’s “stable’ of women, increasing the chance of recidivism.
The pathology, medical and psychological, for these patients is complicated and extensive. In addition, as a clinician, I am aware that healing from this trauma cannot occur as long as the victim is continuing to be traumatized. Rescued victims need a safe, broad, trauma-based, and thorough treatment program in order to successfully reenter society and to be able to work and parent independently. They need ongoing social support even after the treatment program formally ends.
The good news is, as many more people are becoming aware of human trafficking, more and more children and women are being rescued, and many more traffickers are being arrested. Unfortunately, the bad news is, we have too few treatment beds for these rescued victims. (Go to our blog dated 12/20/2017 to see actor Ashton Kutcher, co-founder of Thorn, testify before Congress. He talks about the need for more treatment facilities for this population.)
Most current facilities keep the rescued women for three to six months and try to prepare them for jobs. Often, the psychological trauma is not treated. Recidivism is high because the women are not given enough time and treatment to heal. They are not given enough time and services to successfully reintegrate into society or into their communities. They are not given ongoing social support and so are drawn back to the “community” of their lives of prostitution, because that is the only “community” that they have had for years. Without proper services, the women return to their traffickers.
A great deal of time, energy, funding, risk and concern goes into rescuing these women and children. If we do not initially give them what they need to STAY rescued, we create a revolving door, wasting precious resources and discouraging those women who make the daring decision to trust us and to make the dangerous decision to leave their traffickers.
I have long had a dream of a restorative home for women and minors who are rescued from the hell of human slavery, a home that would meet all of these needs under one roof. Please contact me if you wish to support this dream.
To read about the experiences of a rescued trafficking victim, written by her rescuer who tried to provide needed services, please see the link below: