Human trafficking awareness Day is January 11th. The psychological and physical abuse and trauma that human trafficking victims experience often have severe mental health consequences such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), eating disorders, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation.

Raising awareness is the first step to preventing human trafficking, so it’s essential to understand what human trafficking is and how traffickers can manipulate their victims.

Recognizing the mental effects of human trafficking and the impact on the victims is an integral part of understanding how to provide the appropriate support and create awareness.

How does human trafficking happen?

Human traffickers have a myriad of ways to lure in victims. In many cases, victims are taken by physical force. Other times they are lied to, threatened, or manipulated into working for sex or other inhumane and unacceptable conditions such as forced labor.

Traffickers capitalize on existing vulnerabilities while also making their victims dependent on them.

They scour locations such as shelters, shopping malls, and bus stations, looking for people who may be looking for a safe place to stay. They also target areas like refugee camps that are economically disadvantaged, with people who are desperate to better their situation- promising jobs, education, and stability to entice potential victims.

Those with mental health issues may be more at risk

While the experience of being trafficked can induce or exacerbate mental illness and symptoms, those with existing conditions are often more vulnerable to the exploitation of trafficking.

Those who have experienced past abuse or trauma, long-term exploitation, violence, restricted movement, and minimal support after being rescued may be at higher risk of developing a long-term mental health disorder due to being trafficked.

Many factors can increase the risk of becoming a victim of trafficking. For example, those who have mental health conditions with characteristics such as reduced decision-making ability, dependency issues, substance use are typically more vulnerable. In addition, people who don’t have much social support and few resources, such as homeless youth and runaways, are often easy prey.

Psychological effects of human trafficking

The list of possible mental health effects of human trafficking is long and complex, but the most common ones are:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety disorders

  • Panic disorder

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

  • Substance use and disorders

Human trafficking victims also carry a lot of guilt and shame surrounding their experiences, and many suffer from identity confusion, alienation, and suicidal ideation.

The symptoms of anxiety, substance use, depression, and PTSD can impact a victim’s ability to cope, plan, or commit to treatment- which means recovery and healing could take years.

Traffickers often use these vulnerabilities to maintain control for those already struggling with these issues. They take advantage of the fact that these people may not be capable of making informed decisions, or their judgment may be impaired.

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 ( TTY: 711) or text 233733. If you or someone you know lives in California and needs behavioral health or mental health services, call Serene Health at 844-737-3638 or visit us at www.serenehealth.com to schedule an appointment. We have appointments available 7 days a week from our telehealth platform, so you can speak to a therapist from the location of your choice.