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Psychological Effects of Human Trafficking: How Can You Help? [Part 3]

Part three in a three-part series written by CCAHT therapist, Amy Canfield.

In the previous segments of this three-part series (catch part one and part two, if you missed them), we discussed how traffickers use complex tactics to control victims through force, coercion and fraud. These tactics often lead to complex adverse psychological effects for the victims, giving the trafficker more control, while creating complicated symptoms for victims to cope with and manage.

In this segment, we will discuss why support is important and how others can support victims in their healing journey out of sexual exploitation.

How can you help?

As discussed, there are many complicated effects of human trafficking on victims. Each of these effects impacts a victim’s ability to cope, receive help, and commit to change, and the impact is compounded when a victim experiences multiple psychological effects from their trauma. So, most important, it is imperative that victims of human trafficking are referred to appropriate services that specialize in human trafficking/victim advocacy, trauma, mental health and/or substance use. The experience of human trafficking is complex and professional support and treatment are vital to the healing process.  

Professional Support Services:

Specialized victim advocacy programs, like the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking, can offer emergency shelter, short- and long-term case management, and therapy services specially designed to meet the needs of survivors of human trafficking.

Individual therapy and group therapy can address the unique needs of survivors. And, as needed, psychiatric services, medication, and substance use treatment can address complex mental health and addiction concerns.

Professional, specialized services can help in the following ways:

  • Appropriately and consistently address mental health concerns and substance use disorders to reduce and manage symptoms.
  • Increase awareness and personal control over one’s senses, thoughts and emotions, as well as behavior and choices.
  • Address and reduce personal shame and guilt by providing judgment-free support and validation.
  • Provide education related to the nature of trafficking and the tactics used to manipulate and exploit others.
  • Assess suicide risk and provide appropriate intervention.
  • Provide opportunities for education, awareness, and access to resources and support that provide for alternative ways of life.
  • Help reconnect and rebuild sense of identity and trust in their own thoughts, beliefs, and emotions.
  • Provide specialized services that are individually tailored to each victim’s needs.

Support from caring non-professionals:

  • Educate yourself and become aware of the complex psychological effects of human trafficking on victims
  • Assist and support victims in accessing appropriate, professional services and treatment
  • Provide judgment-free support
  • Become aware of available resources and services
  • Help victims build social supports and access appropriate community resources
  • Be patient and understanding, as the process of change may take time and may look very different for each individual

In conclusion, the experience of trafficking and sexual exploitation can cause a variety of negative psychological effects. Many of these effects will require some level of professional intervention, in addition to judgement-free support. The more you know about how trauma impacts survivors of trafficking, the more prepared you can be to understand the challenges they face in getting out of the life, and in rebuilding a life free from manipulation, exploitation, and abuse. Navigating, managing, and healing from the long-term effects of trauma can take time, but with caring professional and non-professional supports, healing is possible.

Just now jumping into the series? Catch part one and part two on the CCAHT blog.