Psychological Abuse is Inherent to Human Trafficking

Nonphysical abuse through psychological and emotional means is an integral component of trafficking and slave-like practices. Hosts Seth Daire and JJ Janflone discuss Seth’s unpublished paper on the topic that ties together psychological coercive methods used in trafficking, torture, and domestic abuse. The loss of control and identity that can be a part of trafficking are traumatic. To be controlled to the degree required for slavery and trafficking means that even if there are no rapes, threats or bruises, the person has been abused. To effectively prevent and prosecute sex and labor trafficking, and to effectively assist survivors, we need to better recognize and understand the role of psychological coercion within human trafficking.

Biderman’s Framework and Trafficking Survivors

Method Trafficker Application
1. Isolation Kept away from family and friends so no social support. Social isolation increased the power imbalance to make victims more dependent. This led to depression and loneliness.
2. Monopolization of Perception Limited exposure to and understanding of the outside world. Monopolized their attention, so felt presence of trafficker when gone. Constantly watched.
3. Induced Debilitation and Exhaustion Deprivation of basic human needs such as food, sleep, and health care. Victims worked day after day for long hours. Some victims were forced to consume drugs or alcohol.
4. Threats Threats of arrest or deportation, and against family members. Threats of violence and death. Fostered anxiety and despair.
5. Occasional indulgences Occasion kindness gave victims positive motivation for compliance, as it provided a reprieve from abuse. As it was unknown when indulgences would be given, this created anxiety to please and not make mistakes in hope of an emotional or material reward.
6. Demonstrating “Omnipotence” and “Omniscience” Traffickers claimed influential connections to law enforcement, immigration officials, or deities. This created paranoia, fear, doubt of their sense of reality, and a sense they did not control their fate.
7. Degradation Insulted, humiliated, denied privacy and dignity. Reduced to basic animal-level concerns.
8. Enforcing Trivial Demands Focused on petty concerns developed habits of compliance to keep them entrenched. Also created a need to be perfect, which led to stress and anxiety, especially since work was debilitating due to lack of sleep, food, and social support.

Patterson, Orlando. Slavery and Social Death. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982.
Evans, Patricia. The Verbally Abusive Relationship. Blue Ash: F+W Media, Inc., 2009.
Seligman, Martin. Learned Optimism. New York: Random House, 2011.