SEATTLE — While the liberation of a human trafficking victim from his or her oppressor is a victory, complications often remain. These include not only physical and mental traumas but also obstacles in re-entering society.
Human trafficking, which has been referred to as “modern slavery,” includes sex slavery, forced labor and debt bondage. Although they differ in their respective functions, each type typically involves physical violence on behalf of the oppressor.
From such physical violence stems numerous health complications. In the field of sex slavery, these often include unwanted pregnancy, STDs, HIV/AIDS, drug addiction and infertility. For forced labor and debt bondage, these often include malnourishment, eye and ear infections, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and communicable diseases.
Furthermore, because the enslaved do not have access to sufficient medical resources, treatable illnesses are often neglected until they become critical. Although some bodily damage may be reversed upon liberation, it is often the case that victims must cope with long-term health issues.
This reaches beyond the physical realm, however, and into the psychological. Elizabeth K. Hopper, who organizes services for trafficking survivors, writes: “Traffickers use very subtle psychological coercion techniques.” As a result, many victims are affected by depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder for years after being trafficked.
In addition, it can be challenging for psychological professionals to assist survivors, as Hopper points out. The intensity of the trauma experienced, combined with housing, employment and legal concerns, presents challenges for even experienced psychologists.
With all these issues combined, it can be difficult for survivors to adjust to a sense of normalcy in their daily living in the aftermath of human trafficking, especially if adequate social services are not provided. Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco describes long waiting lists for residential centers designed for human trafficking survivors within the United States.
Additionally, she recounts challenges in obtaining “vocational training, transportation, and sustainable income job placement” for victims. This is exacerbated in developing nations as well, where human trafficking is not unusual and social services are scarce.
As numerous professionals have suggested, the solution begins in preventing human trafficking as a whole. One method comes in teaching individuals to recognize perpetrators as well as potential victims. In doing so, not only can they intervene in trafficking situations, but they can prevent their own trafficking. Policies for traffickers should be stricter, as well.
Social services must also be expanded for victims of human trafficking, as a number of organizations such as the Polaris Project have done. Through combining both prevention techniques and social services, the negative aftermath of human trafficking can be limited.
As psychologist Thema Bryant-Davis concludes: “We have to make a decision. Are we going to stay on the sidelines or are we going to use our science, our clinical skills and our advocacy opportunities to combat modern-day slavery?”
– Gigi DeLorenzo