Trauma Barriers for Trafficked Persons

Many trafficked persons have been subject to traumatic events prior to and during their experience. Violence, isolation, persistent fear, and psychological manipulation are some of the factors that can cause a person to become traumatized.

The following trauma symptoms may affect your relationship and communications with a trafficked person:

  • Instinctive mistrust.
  • Memory loss.
  • Avoidance of reminders and triggers.
  • Irritability.
  • Depression.
  • Hyper-vigilance.
  • Emotionally numb or shut-down.
  • Believes no one can understand.
  • Difficulty having hope or believing in the future.
  • Believes they deserve the abuse.
  • Engages in anti-social, risk-taking behaviours such as eating disorders, substance use, self-harm, or suicidal gestures.

My Story: I was addicted to my trafficker, like an emotional dependency.  Every time he left the room I felt that I was having an anxiety attack and my chest felt like it would collapse. I at first… he was always there for me. I didn’t have that when I was growing up, and he made me feel he was stable and I could reply on him. But when we got in fights, I would be scared that he would never come back. Then I felt I would have nothing. A lot  of the girls who work feel this way about their trafficker. I would sit there and wonder why I would be crying if he went to the corner store. I felt messed up inside.

– Christina

Trauma Bonds

Trauma bonding occurs when a person develops positive feelings toward their trafficker. This typically occurs when the trafficked person has been isolated and controlled by a trafficker or other abuser, feels threatened or unable to escape, or has experienced sporadic acts of kindness from the trafficker. Trauma bonding is more often found in situations where trafficked persons see their trafficker as a lover or partner. Trauma bonding may result in the trafficked person trying to appease their trafficker.

Signs of Trauma Bonding

The trafficked person may:

  • Show gratitude for small kindnesses shown by the trafficker.
  • Feel loyal to or defend the trafficker.
  • Rationalize violence by the trafficker — believe they can control the level of abuse
    by being complacent and pleasing the trafficker.
  • Have protective feelings towards the trafficker.
  • Feel that the trafficker genuinely loves them and cares about them.
  • Feel that only the trafficker can help or care for them.

Resources on Trauma

For more information on trauma, please see the Web Resources in the Resources section.


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