Trauma and Trafficking

“Human trafficking is one of the darkest and most revolting realities in the world today, ensnaring 41 million men and women, boys and girls.” – Father David Charters, second secretary of the Vatican’s permanent observer mission to the United Nations.

Those who are trafficked are daughters and sons, mothers, brothers, fathers and sisters. Most often, they are individuals who believed they were being given an opportunity to earn money to improve their future. Once in a trafficking situation, most come to believe that their hopes have been ruined. For many survivors, health problems hinder their ability to care for themselves and their family. For those most severely abused, those violated at the youngest ages, or those most vulnerable to mental health problems, the psychological burden may prevent them from moving beyond the trafficking experience and may even make them at risk of re-trafficking or other forms of abuse.

While prostitution is not itself a mental health issue, there is emotional and psychological damage involved which can lead to extreme feelings of instability. This trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster. Sex trafficking can be included in this situation of distress because the victims are subjected to physical and psychological harm as a way to control them. This trauma associated with trafficking and performing sexual acts under duress can be devastating.

The mental health needs of survivors of sex trafficking are among the most complex of crime victims. They often benefit from a multidisciplinary approach to address severe trauma, medical needs, immigration and legal issues, financial problems, safety concerns, housing, family re-unification, basic needs, and necessary inculturation in order to become active members of our societies.

Across the world, an increasing number of women, men, and children embark on perilous journeys in search of safety and dignity, and risk abuse and exploitation in countries of origin, transit and destination. As recognized in the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, some feel compelled to resort to smugglers, especially in the absence of regular migration pathways others become victims of human trafficking.

Human trafficking victims and immigrants often suffer from similar types of trauma: assault, coercion, threats of harm to themselves and families, severe restriction of freedom, living in an environment of unpredictability and uncontrollability, multiple victimizations often beginning in childhood, shame and stigma associated with common trafficking experiences, abuse, low socio-economic status, no work history,  no access to documentation, and chronic coercion and control. Most have experienced unspeakable horror and persecution. Though many are exceptionally resilient, they still must cope with the emotional wounds and scars these experiences have left behind.

According to statistics released last year by the International Organization for Migration “around 75% of the people that were crossing the Mediterranean Sea,  said and declared to have experienced trafficking.”  Those migrating illegally are the most at risk, most particularly young women, both before and after they reach their destination.

For anyone who is distressed by the reality of human trafficking and wants to help, the first thing to do is to become informed. This topic is not covered well in the news, making it difficult to be well informed. To get accurate information visit the many websites of organizations who are involved with human trafficking. In addition to increasing ones knowledge, help support projects and organizations who are trying to help those affected by this crime.  Work at being responsible consumers by buying Fair Trade products, so as not to reward companies that are using “slave labor” in the production of their goods.

Prayer is also very important and a helpful way to support survivors, victims, anti-trafficking activities and even the conversion of the people responsible for trafficking.

“In human trafficking we can see, ‘the wounds of humanity today.’ Human trafficking is “a new crime against humanity as it’s a new form of slavery” that prevents people from developing authentic relationships and enjoying civil rights. The factors that make individuals vulnerable are various and include poverty, political oppression, family dysfunction, war, climate changes that force people to migrate and make them far more vulnerable to trafficking.”

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