While you may think sex trafficking only happens in developing countries, it, unfortunately, is happening quite frequently here in the United States. In fact, the U.S. ranks as one of the worst countries in the world for human trafficking, with California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Ohio with the most reported cases of sex trafficking. It is estimated that 199,000 cases of human trafficking happen every year, while only a small amount ever get reported. In 2019, 11,500 cases of human trafficking were reported in the U.S. In this article, we will explore what sex trafficking entails, the psychological effects it has on victims, and how the victims can seek help and treatment.
Sex trafficking disproportionally affects women and children and forces them into involuntary commercial sexual acts. In the U.S., any child under the age of 18 who has been involved in a commercial sex act is considered a victim of sex trafficking. Annually, traffickers exploit 1 million children in the commercial sex trade. Traffickers often look for vulnerable individuals like those experiencing homelessness, runaways, those with a lack of social and emotional support, and those who are already emotionally and psychologically vulnerable. Manipulation is often used by traffickers to distort the reality of victims and make them believe that they have no other options and no one else they can trust other than their traffickers.
Psychological Effects of Sex Trafficking
- – Depression
- – Anxiety Disorders, Panic Disorder
- – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- – Substance use disorders
- – Shame and guilt
- – Alienation from social support
- – Suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide)
- – Identity disturbance and confusion
Contributing Factors for Developing a Mental Health Disorder
- – Being sex trafficked
- – Duration of exploitation
- – Past experience of trauma or abuse
- – Violence
- – Restrictions of physical movement while being trafficked
- – Unmet needs
- – Lower levels of support
After someone is sex trafficked, they may not be open to receiving help or making significant changes in their life. This is common because they are suffering from several mental health issues as a result of their trauma and abuse. Someone who is suffering from depression, anxiety, or PTSD will often find it difficult to cope, think, plan, and commit to their healing. This is why it is paramount for victims to not only get help but get the right type of professional help from experts.
What You Need to Know
Traffickers will often abuse their victims physically and psychologically in order to foster dependency and garner control. Some survivors will develop Stockholm Syndrome and actually feel a sense of closeness and sympathy with their traffickers, minimizing the abuse or even justifying it. When victims are being trafficked, this can be seen as a survival tactic, however, once victims escape their trafficking situation, this can prevent them from getting help and sometimes even hinder them from bringing their abuser to justice.
It’s not just the victims who struggle with the psychological effects of being sex trafficked; their family members and loved ones can also experience mental health issues in the aftermath of the abuse. This can lead to feelings of shame, anxiety, and stigma around the trafficking event for all parties affected. For this reason, there must be a wide range of healing modalities available to trafficking victims and their loved ones. However, it’s also important to note, that it is common that a family member can also be the trafficker which complicates the victim’s ability to trust in the future.
Because there is no intervention modality specific to survivors of sex trafficking, treatments are borrowed from evidence-based interventions developed for PTSD, domestic violence, sexual assault, and captivity. Cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical trauma-focused behavior therapy, and group counseling with other victims are often used for treatment. The road to recovery for survivors of sex trafficking is not an easy one. It is also often complex and long, requiring patience from mental health professionals who treat sex trafficking victims. Survivor-centered approaches are recommended to validate the survivor’s experience, help them restore control, and build a sense of safety and trust.
Contact Us Today
If you or someone you know is a victim of sex trafficking, there is help available. Advanced Behavioral Health offers trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and group counseling for treatment options for survivors. Reach out to someone on our team today by calling 301-345-1022 or sending us a message online here. We are here to walk you or your loved one through this difficult time and are well versed to assist with the right treatment options for recovery. Get in touch with us today.