How to understand the mind of a human trafficking victim

Understanding what’s going on in the mind of trafficking victims can be the best place to start if we want to help them. The following is the beginning of an excellent series on trafficking by the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking (CCAHT).

From their website….

Our personal experience and empathy help us care for others who’ve been through traumatic events and give us a desire to support them. But what we may not know is exactly how human trafficking impacts its victims and what type of support they need.

The experience of human trafficking can cause many short and long-term adverse psychological effects. These effects may lead to maladaptive behaviors, mental health concerns, and substance use. Knowing what the specific effects are and how they impact a victim is an important part of understanding the complexity of this crime and providing appropriate support.

How does it happen?

The definition and act of sex trafficking have in them the recipe for creating and maintaining adverse psychological effects on victims. Trafficking is essentially taking control of another person and using them for one’s own gain through force, fraud, or coercion. Traffickers often seek vulnerable individuals, such as the displaced or homeless, runaways, those with little social support or few resources, and individuals with psychological and emotional vulnerability. Traffickers believe they have the best chance of controlling and manipulating others by capitalizing on any existing vulnerabilities, while simultaneously creating dependence and a distorted sense of reality. The reality that the trafficker shapes through fraud, manipulation, and force leaves victims questioning their own ideas about what is true, who they can trust, and what their alternative options are.

The experience of being trafficked may induce or exacerbate mental health concerns and symptoms. While those with pre-existing mental health concerns or disabilities are also extremely vulnerable to the manipulation and exploitation of trafficking.

Possible psychological effects of human trafficking include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders, including panic disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance use and disorders
  • Shame and guilt
  • Alienation and isolation from social supports
  • Suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide)
  • Identity disturbance/confusion

The risk of developing a mental health disorder, as a victim of trafficking, may be influenced by multiple factors:

  • Past experience of trauma/abuse
  • Duration of exploitation
  • Violence
  • Restrictions on movement while being trafficked
  • Greater number of unmet needs
  • Lower levels of support following trafficking


Many of us are familiar with most of the psychological effects on this list, as they are commonly experienced by individuals impacted by other forms of trauma or negative life events. However, understanding how these diagnoses and symptoms impact someone’s ability to cope and survive while being trafficked or afterward may be helpful in working with and relating to victims of trafficking.

Read the entire article series here on the CCAHT website.

Originally published at Stop Human Trafficking Website.




Writer & photographer in print & online. Proud husband, father & grandfather. Engaged volunteer with Red Cross, human trafficking prevention & social concerns.

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Doug Bardwell

Doug Bardwell

Writer & photographer in print & online. Proud husband, father & grandfather. Engaged volunteer with Red Cross, human trafficking prevention & social concerns.

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