Why They Stay: The Dynamics of Trafficking

Traffickers create a climate of fear that contributes to their ability to control the trafficked person. A person who has been trafficked may remain in a trafficking situation — not go to the police, not try to find help elsewhere, not return home — for a number of complex reasons. These reasons may include:

  • Fear
    Some traffickers will confine or imprison trafficked persons to control them, but traffickers use other methods such as threats of violence or sexual assault. Someone in fear for themselves or their loved ones will most likely do what they’re told. If they do try to leave, the trafficker may then use actual violence to maintain control.

    For someone who has entered another country illegally, a trafficker may use the fear of arrest and deportation to keep them from going to the authorities. They may also be afraid to return home, or afraid that they won’t be able to repay their debt to the trafficker.
  • Debt Bondage
    Many people who have been trafficked owe money to their traffickers for everything from transportation to visa fees, safe passage through borders, food, clothing, housing, or drugs, and are expected to repay it. A trafficker may arbitrarily increase the amount a trafficked person owes at any time, while promising that they will go free as soon as the debt is paid — which it might never be.

    There are other kinds of debt as well, though. Sometimes, family and friends have made great sacrifices to help cover a trafficked person’s costs to get to a new country or city, and they may feel responsible for re-paying that debt. Or the person may be their family’s only lifeline: whatever can be sent to them may be critical to their survival.

    Trafficked persons fear that if they fail to repay their debt, they or their families, will face violent consequences from the traffickers. Threats of harm, deportation, and arrest for failing to repay the debt are also used by traffickers.
  • Dependency and Isolation
    A person alone — no family, no friends — in an unfamiliar place where they might not know the language, local laws, or customs may end up believing that the trafficker is their only support.

The trafficker may forbid them from talking to or even making eye contact with others, or keep them moving from place to place so they never get to know anyone else. The trafficker may also hold passports and other identity documents as security, or even get them hooked on drugs or alcohol for complete control.

A child who has been trafficked is particularly easy to keep dependent and "invisible" through extreme isolation or within a ring where many people — possibly family and community members — are involved in the exploitation.

  • Shame and Guilt
    A person who has been trafficked may have been sexually assaulted by the trafficker or others, may be pregnant or addicted, or have acquired a sexually transmitted infection. They may feel too ashamed and guilty to tell the authorities, or to return to friends and family. For males who have been exploited, there’s often shame due to the fact that it isn’t commonly recognized that they can also be trafficked.
  • Religious Belief
    A trafficker may be able to use religious beliefs to control a trafficked person. For example, in some Central African countries, many believe that if someone else has a sample of their hair or a nail clipping or piece of skin, that person can also control their bodies.

My Story: I was ashamed because I put so much pressure on my family, and that I felt bad if I went back. They wouldn’t want me back. I said a lot of hurtful things and blamed my circumstance on them. When I looked in mirror, I felt really ugly and that I was losing myself and the person that I once was. I used to be happy and energetic, but I had become miserable, unhappy, embarrassed of the abuse that was happening to me. I didn’t want anyone to know someone was doing that to me.

- Christina

Reality Check – When you read the phrase ‘human trafficking’ now, do you have a better understanding of what it means? Do you think you’ve ever encountered a trafficked person in your practice? What makes you think so? What do you think made this person vulnerable to trafficking?


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