Love Bombing: What is it and How is it Weaponized for Human Trafficking?

May 30, 2024

Love bombing may seem like a shower of affection and kindness, but beneath its surface lies a dangerous manipulation tactic. Often accompanied by expensive gifts, excessive flattery, and grand gestures of love, love bombing can trap individuals in abusive relationships.

While love bombing can happen in relationships, this tactic becomes particularly sinister when used as a tool for human trafficking. By exploiting victims’ vulnerabilities and emotions, love bombing becomes a weapon to trap victims in the cycle of abuse present in human trafficking.

Join us as we uncover love bombing and how individuals weaponize it as a manipulation tactic for human trafficking.


Understanding Love Bombing

Love bombing is a term that psychologists have coined as a form of emotional abuse. It is an attempt at emotional manipulation against another person through over-the-top displays of affection, attention, and flattery. This affectionate stage takes the name of the idealization stage, which, on the surface, may not come across as abuse. However, it is a calculated attempt for the “love bomber” to gain control and the upper hand over their victim.

Once a victim feels emotionally dependent on their “love bomber” for their self-worth, they have the power to withdraw affection and become insulting, controlling, and distant until the first abuse occurs. This stage is referred to as devaluation and can often cycle back and forth between the idealization stage to make up for the abuse. While love bombing can happen at any stage in a relationship, it is commonly seen in the early stages of a relationship.


Recognizing the Signs

The early stages of love bombing can often mimic acts of kindness and similar behaviors in the beginning stages of a relationship. These signs can be subtle and easy to miss, making it hard to identify if you’re living through them. That’s why knowing these signs is essential to catch them early.

Love bombing tactics are intended to overwhelm the victim with intense attention and affection, followed by a rapid escalation, often leaving them isolated from family and friends. Some signs include:

  • Giving expensive gifts
  • Displaying codependency both in person and through constant messaging
  • Making early declarations of love like “I love you,” “You’re everything I’ve ever wanted,” or “You’re my soulmate.”
  • Disrespecting boundaries by persistently changing a “no” to a “yes.”
  • Using excessive flattery
  • Discussing marriage, children, and moving in together very early on
  • Displaying emotional neediness and reactivity if they don’t get their way

All of these are leverage to manipulate their victims into thinking they are ungrateful or gaslight them into thinking they owe their abuser. However, it is important to note that not all these actions and behaviors may come from ill intentions or a love bomber. If you are unsure, it is important to talk about it with a mental health professional, close friend, or family member to get their input on the situation.


Love Bombing in Human Trafficking

Many people perceive human trafficking through the lens of movies, where individuals are kidnapped and forced into labor or sexual servitude. While this does happen to some, it’s not the reality for many victims. Often, victims may know their abusers, as there is usually a through relationship that may not initially raise suspicion.

Pimps/traffickers have specific tactics to target, trick, and torture their victims, like love bombing. Romeo pimps or loverboys mainly use this tactic, which tricks victims into believing they’re in a romantic relationship, all while intending to profit from the victim’s commercial sexual services. They purposely invest a lot of time and effort into forming a bond with their victim to gain power over them and exploit them sexually.


Psychological Impact on Victims

Love bombing reinforces the power dynamic between the victim and the trafficker and can have serious psychological effects on human trafficking victims. As a result of these impacts, some victims become even more vulnerable to trafficking tactics. Let’s explore the top five most commonly observed psychological impacts of love bombing on trafficking victims.


  1. Emotional Manipulation: Love bombing distorts the victim’s perception of reality by overwhelming them with affection and attention. Victims can feel indebted to their traffickers or even believe that they are genuinely cared for. They can also feel some form of obligation to comply with their trafficker’s demands to continue to receive the over-the-top treatment. This form of emotional abuse and psychological coercion makes it very difficult for victims to recognize they suffer from exploitation.
  2. Isolation: Traffickers often use love bombing to further isolate victims from their support systems, like family and friends. By providing all the emotional support and validation the victim needs, the trafficker becomes the only source of comfort and companionship. As a result, it can create a sense of dependency and attachment, making it harder to leave or come forward about the abuse.
  3. Trauma Bonding: With the intense emotional highs and lows experienced throughout the love bombing phase, a victim can become trauma-bonded to their trafficker. According to the United States Department of State, this phenomenon can also be called “Stockholm Syndrome.” The cycle of affection mixed with manipulation, abuse, and exploitation can create a powerful psychological connection that makes it hard for a victim to leave.
  4. Low Self-Esteem: Once a victim is fully reliant on their trafficker for constant praise and validation, they can develop low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. This brainwashing leads victims to believe that their value is dependent on their relationship with the trafficker. Over time, victims can become addicted to pleasing their trafficker at their own expense.
  5. Difficulty Establishing Healthy Relationships: Love bombing can distort the victim’s understanding of a healthy relationship. After enduring unthinkable abuse, it can be difficult to establish solid boundaries and recognize signs of abuse in future relationships.


Breaking the Cycle

When a victim spirals into the cycle of love bombing, it can be challenging to know how to break free and seek help. By understanding love bombing at its core and its effects, individuals can avoid falling victim to its tactics. Awareness and maintaining healthy boundaries are key to protecting oneself from being drawn into these abusive power dynamics. A relationship that progresses too quickly and feels excessively intense can be a warning sign of manipulation. Being mindful of these red flags can help you recognize them before becoming too attached. Additionally, seeking support from friends, family members, or professionals can provide guidance and assistance in recognizing and addressing unhealthy relationship patterns.

For those who have experienced love bombing or are victims of human trafficking, there are resources available, such as support groups, helplines, and organizations dedicated to assisting survivors. These resources offer a safe space for survivors to share their stories, receive support, and access the help they need to break free from abusive situations and rebuild their lives.


Bridging Freedom

Our team serves as an advocate for restoring stolen childhoods. At Bridging Freedom, we aim to combat domestic minor sex trafficking through our restoration programs for rescued victims by providing therapeutic, safe homes for victims. Aside from providing services for victims, Bridging Freedom aims to educate the community about the horrors behind closed doors.

Through partnerships with Clearwater / Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking, Tampa Bay FBI Innocence Lost Initiative, and St. Petersburg College Center for Human Trafficking Awareness, Bridging Freedom can help provide victims with a safe place and connect them to necessary resources. To allow us to continue doing what we do, Bridging Freedom relies on the generosity and collaboration of our community of supporters. If you would like to join our group of supporters, we encourage you to donate online at the webpage.


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