Why They Stay: Stockholm Syndrome in Human Trafficking

Jun 6, 2013

“I never understood or respected the wives of abusive husbands

who stayed around for the next one-sided boxing match until I was one.”

–Local domestic abuse survivor


Stockholm SyndromeThe most problematic issue with human trafficking, next to the act itself, is the public’s unwillingness to view the victims as victims rather than willing participants. Even our government officials are just breaching the cusp of the reality that surrounds the mental abuse of a sex trafficked individual.

Human traffickers prey on those who are mentally or emotionally struggling, such as the sexually or physically abused or those who have never found a nitch in their families. Perhaps these victims never had a family unit at all. Although this is not always the case, it benefits the trafficker to target these individuals because then he or she has the ability to psychologically manipulate the already impaired target and have a higher rate of success. Rather than the traffickers having to put chains around their victim’s wrists or ankles to force them into submission, they perform what referred to as “grooming”. This method is enforced in the early stages of the abuser/victim relationship to gain trust and loyalty from their victims. One human trafficking survivor describes this tactic as placing chains around one’s mind.

Grooming has six steps in most cases, including: targeting, gaining trust, filling a need, isolating the victim, sexualizing the relationship and finally maintaining control. The step where a need is filled is further reason that an emotionally struggling target will have a higher rate of submission and compliance to the trafficker’s manipulation.

During and especially after the grooming process, Stockholm Syndrome gains roots in the emotional relationship between the victim and captor. Stockholm Syndrome is considered complex reaction to a frightening situation. This phenomenon is still being researched and developed because it is so peculiar and difficult to understand from the viewpoint of one outside the victim/captor relationship. FBI researchers concluded that there are three factors that are necessary for the syndrome to develop. These will be discussed in next week’s blog. Check back with us then and please continue to support Bridging Freedom, Inc. as we fight toward restoring stolen childhoods in the Tampa Bay area.

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