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Recognizing a Human Trafficking Victim or a Perpetrator

Course Number: 600

Why are Victims Vulnerable?

There are known variables that make a person more likely to become a human trafficking victim. Social determinants such as low self-esteem, poverty, low societal value of girls and women (this is especially common in certain cultures and countries), limited support systems and low educational levels make individuals very susceptible. Past sexual abuse, physical and emotional abuse, addiction or parental addiction/drug abuse, domestic violence, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ individuals and native/aboriginal persons are often targeted as well. Migration and refugee displacement, language barriers, along with opportunity for connection via the internet and networking sites allow the introduction of the victims to the perpetrators. Migrant workers and domestic workers are targeted internationally as well. Children, especially girls aged 12 to 14, are seen as more “malleable” and easily controlled long-term. Additionally, runaways are approached by traffickers within 48 hours after they leave their home. Traffickers use intimidation, threats against the victim, their families, confiscation of personal documents, threats of deportation and psychological tactics in order to gain control over the victims. These factors are obviously used more successfully in children who become dependent upon the perpetrator, and often begin to identify with their captor. They will also employ entrapment tactics such as listening, mentorship and promises of empowerment or romance.6,18,25 The top five exploiters listed for labor trafficking and sex trafficking are employers, familial relationships to the victim, recruiters, smugglers and intimate partners. In labor trafficking the employer was the largest source at 85%.53,54

Young boys and male workers are often recruited to fishing boats for employment but are charged for food and shelter. After these fees are taken out of any earned salary, they are often left with little money. Most often, documents are taken from an individual, so they have no way to leave and get out of their current environment. The fishing boats also may be involved in illegal activity, outside of human rights violations, that may involve drugs, illicit fishing practices and sex trafficking.3,4,24 According to a recent paper,3 there is an STD/HIV crises that has been a cited problem and is occurring in Vietnam due to the sex trade of boys/men (MSM-Men who have sex with men). These boys are involved in “shared houses” that are run by brokers who serve as intermediary “sales” persons. The boys often believe, when they are taken from their existing environment, that they will be doing work in agriculture, domestic, farming, etc. when brought to the area but find out that the prime work is sex trade. This concept is also found in China and other locations globally. Younger men/boys are targeted since there is less chance that they will have an STD or HIV at the time of involvement and be able to work for a longer period of time. As previously mentioned, this has become a global problem and concern.3,32 There is also a cultural aspect since boys of a certain age in many countries are expected to leave home, find employment and assist the family financially. So, in addition to being taken against their will, some boys will see this as an opportunity for employment.3,32

Victims, especially females involved in sex work, may develop the “Stockholm Syndrome” and become emotionally supportive of their captor. This is also termed: Trauma Bonding. In some cases, they may not even testify against the trafficker or will not make an attempt to free themselves of the bondage. The syndrome was termed because of a case in Stockholm where robbers held bank employees captive for six days and the captive workers began to sympathize with the robbers even to the point of defending their perpetrator. Younger trafficking victims have no one to look out for them and see the perpetrator as someone who takes care of them and meets their fundamental needs.15 The victim may believe that the captor has done them a favor by not killing them and giving them a place to live. This has occurred in India, England and the United States. They describe this as a coping and survival strategy when the victim is held in captivity. Four conditions are necessary for the syndrome:7,15

  1. A threat to survival
  2. A captor who shows some kindness
  3. Isolation from the outside world
  4. A perceived inability to escape.

In addition to the development of the Stockholm Syndrome, other factors such as those below make these individuals more vulnerable, thereby, making them extremely dependent upon the perpetrator over time:

  • Anxiety
  • Nervous disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Severe psychological disorders in general along with poor coping skills