Human Trafficking and Psychological Impacts

Human trafficking refers to the sale of people for the intention of prostitution, forced labor, or profitable sexual abuse. Hernandez and Rudolph (2015) aver that human trafficking may encompass “providing a spouse in the context of forced marriage or extraction of organs or tissues including for surrogacy and ova removal” (p. 121). The crime may happen within a state or across nations. Trafficking amounts to a crime against humanity because it infringes on the rights of the victims.

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The majority of victims of human trafficking are women and children. Statistics from the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) indicate that at least 21 million people are sold worldwide (Hernandez & Rudolph, 2015). Moreover, UNICEF alleges that over a 5.5million children are victims of this atrocious crime (Hernandez & Rudolph, 2015). Human trafficking has psychological and social impacts on victims. This paper will discuss the impacts of human trafficking.


Victims of human trafficking, especially those sold for sexual exploitation, face intimidation from crooked law enforcement agents, customers, traffickers, and pimps. Raids conducted by police may help to minimize human trafficking and protect victims (Farrell, Pfeffer, & Bright, 2015). Nevertheless, most victims of this crime are afraid of reporting the matter to authorities due to fear of being incarcerated.

Moreover, some dishonest law enforcement agents take advantage of the victims and exploit or even assault them physically (Farrell et al., 2015). Apart from dealing with the harrowing effects of trafficking, victims of this crime face social hostility in both the resident and host nations. Social segregation, stigmatization, and intolerance make it hard for victims to associate with other people in the community.

Psychological Impacts

Human trafficking results in short- and long-term psychological implications on the victims. According to Baldwin, Fehrenbacher, and Eisenman (2014), the perpetrators of human trafficking use extreme force to dominate their victims. The victims are exposed to intense emotional tension caused by physical assault, fear, and intimidation. Traffickers establish a condition where victims of human trafficking become entirely dependent, forcing them to comply with their directions.

According to Hopper (2017), the perpetrators of this crime exploit the weaknesses of their victims, which include homelessness, family dysfunction, or account of childhood violence to lure women and children to join the trafficking business. Baldwin et al. (2014) cite Stockholm syndrome as one of the widespread methods of psychological intimidation that human traffickers use. The majority of women who enroll in the sex trafficking business are young and former victims of sexual abuse. The women are guaranteed safety, love, and protection. The primary objective of a trafficker is to convert a person into a slave.

To achieve this goal, traffickers use techniques that result in victims developing a sense of helplessness. The trafficked individuals hold the belief that they do not have power over their life. Some traffickers may keep their victims in seclusion or expose them to drugs. In the process, the trafficked persons may develop rage, depression, anger, self-blame, and sleep disturbances.

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Victims of human trafficking may suffer from composite distress attributed to recurrent incidences of domestic violence, gang rape, sexual abuse, and forced prostitution. Miller-Perrin and Wurtele (2017) allege that complex trauma “involves multifaceted conditions of depression, anxiety, self-hatred, dissociation, substance abuse, self-destructive behaviors, medical and somatic concerns, despair, and revictimization” (p. 127).

Human traffickers use bar codes or tattoos to identify victims being trafficked for sex. Despite the victims being rescued, the branding becomes a stark reminder of their past ordeal. The inability to remove the tattoos makes it hard for victims to overcome emotional stress attributed to their experience. Psychological studies show that the lasting trauma that victims of human trafficking undergo may impair their immune systems. Children are susceptible to emotional and developmental challenges attributed to human trafficking (Cecchet & Thoburn, 2014). Perpetrators of this crime use emotional and physical violence to force children to submit.

Consequently, the kids develop anti-social behaviors. Cecchet and Thoburn (2014) allege that some kids display over-sexualized habits, hostility, attention deficit disorders, and disbelieve in adults. The majority of the victims of sex trafficking are women and girls. Studies are underway to examine the emotional effects of sex trafficking on boys. Nevertheless, most boys who are victims of sex trafficking exhibit extreme rage, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a desire for retribution.


Human trafficking amounts to a crime against humanity. The perpetrators of the felony infringe on the rights of their victims. They use threats and trickery to lure people into joining the trafficking business. The majority of victims of human trafficking are women and children. The crime is attributed to psychological and social challenges. Victims of human trafficking face intimidation from different parties.

At times, the law enforcement agents take advantage of the victims’ status and exploit them. Stigmatization and social alienation meted on individuals who are rescued from human traffickers make it hard for them to recover from this ordeal. The coercive methods that traffickers use the result in victims developing guilt, rage, depression, and self-blame. Additionally, sexual abuse, rape, and forced prostitution may lead to victims of trafficking suffering from complex trauma. Human trafficking is associated with unceasing tension, which may affect a victim’s immune system.


Baldwin, S. B., Fehrenbacher, A. E., & Eisenman, D. P. (2014). Psychological coercion in human trafficking: An application of Biderman’s framework. Qualitative Health Research, 25(9), 1171-1181.

Cecchet, S. J., & Thoburn, J. (2014). The psychological experience of child and adolescent sex trafficking in the United States: Trauma and resilience in survivors. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 6(5), 482-493.

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Farrell, A., Pfeffer, R., & Bright, K. (2015). Police perceptions of human trafficking. Journal of Crime and Justice, 38(3), 315-333.

Hernandez, D., & Rudolph, A. (2015). Modern day slavery: What drives human trafficking in Europe? European Journal of Political Economy, 38(1), 118-139.

Hopper, E. K. (2017). Trauma-informed psychological assessment of human trafficking survivors. Women & Therapy, 40(1), 12-30.

Miller-Perrin, C., & Wurtele, S. K. (2017). Sex trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Women & Therapy, 40(1), 123-151.

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StudyCorgi. "Human Trafficking and Psychological Impacts." May 30, 2021.


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