Mental and physical signs help identify victims of sex trafficking

Recognizing health problems of victims of sex trafficking can be one way to identify and help human trafficking victims.

WASHINGTON, October 19, 2012 -  To say that child victims of human trafficking face significant problems is an understatement.  After being physically and sexually abused, they have medical and psychological needs that have to be addressed before they ever reach adulthood. Because I was trafficked from the early age of thirteen years old and I never received any medical care the entire time I was trafficked, I suffered many serious medical problems after escaping my trafficker, including heart problems, spinal conditions, P.T.S.D., and depression.

Recognizing health problems of victims of sex trafficking can be one way to identify and help human trafficking victims. These health problems have to be addressed in order for all survivors to begin to lead productive lives.

Some of the many health problems that trafficking victims suffer are:

Sleeping and eating disorders

Sexually transmitted diseases

HIV/AIDS, pelvic pain, rectal trauma, urinary difficulties

Chronic back, cardiovascular or respiratory problems

Fear and anxiety

Depression, mood changes

Guilt and shame

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Traumatic Bonding with the Trafficker

Traffickers frequently confiscate their victims’ immigration and identification documents and instill in their victims a fear of government officials, particularly law enforcement and immigration officers.

Whether you are a law enforcement officer, health care professional or a social service provider, there are physical and mental clues that can alert you to a victim:

• Child victims of trafficking are often malnourished to the extent that they may never reach their full height, may have poorly formed or rotting teeth, and later may experience reproductive problems.

• The psychological effects of torture are helplessness, shame and humiliation, shock, denial and disbelief, disorientation and confusion, and anxiety disorders including post traumatic stress disorder, phobias, panic attacks and depression.

• Other factors can also aid in identifying child victims of trafficking, including where the child is living, living with multiple people in a cramped space, and attending school sporadically or not at all. 

• Victims may experience Traumatic Bonding (Stockholm syndrome) a form of coercive control in which the perpetrator instills in the victim fear as well as gratitude for being allowed to live or for any other perceived favors, however small.

• Traffickers of children sometimes condition their victims to refer to them by family names like Daddy, and to refer to the other women who are also being trafficked as their wife-in-laws.

The public is finally beginning to understand women who suffer through domestic violence and why those women stay in abusive relationships or go back to their boyfriends and husbands. Trafficking victims and their situations with their traffickers are similar; they both suffer from trauma bonding. We have to recognize the multi-faceted mental and physical problems that victims of human sex trafficking suffer in order to identify them and to help them on their journey to leading a healthy life.


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Barbara Amaya

As a survivor of human trafficking Barbara Amaya speaks and writes from her experiences as a trafficked child. She has been published in varied media like Yahoo Voices! More magazine and her story of overcoming adversity has been featured on Fox News, Channel 4, Examiner, Animal New York, Washington Times and more.

She has a book in progress, A Girl’s Guide to Survival: Life Lessons from the Street, and has written a graphic novel about human trafficking targeted for middle and high school age students, you can get updates about Barbara her books and her activities in the anti-trafficking community at her website follow her on twitter barbaraamaya4 and on facebook, linkedin and google + and pinterest

Contact Barbara Amaya


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