Traffickers go to great lengths to keep victims under control, using both physical and psychological tactics to create dependence and fear. While kidnapping a victim off the street can happen, the majority of traffickers use grooming techniques to first gain someone’s trust and establish some kind of relationship with the person they intend on trafficking. This can be a dating relationship or posing as an employer who is offering a good job opportunity. Even friends or family members may ‘recruit’ someone into trafficking. Once a trafficker has gained a victim’s trust, they then begin to use coercion, fraud, and/or force to take control over that person.
As a result, victims and survivors may have a complicated relationship with traffickers as they are forced to become dependent on their abuser for survival. Traffickers can provide food, a place to stay, and other basic needs, which do provide some security despite the abuse. Traffickers might buy victims gifts or rewards, and create a false sense of love and loyalty to keep victims dependent. They isolate victims from having other options to reach out to, so that they have to stay to survive. For some victims, trafficking may be that “the situation is bad, but I have nowhere else to go. I am able to get clothing and food and have somewhere to stay. If I do what they say, I won’t get punished and I know what to expect from this situation. If I leave, I will face the unknown.”
Some survivors may not realize that they are being trafficked; they are focused on their survival. Survivors may reach out to our program to find a safe place to go and report the physical and mental abusive tactics that traffickers are using. On the surface, it may appear to be domestic violence, but still clear that this person needs safety. Once they are safe and able to share more, it may become clear that more is going on. Any instance where a person is forced or coerced to perform sexual favors or labor for someone else’s gain (money, drugs, etc.), this is trafficking. As advocates, we are trained to recognize this and can listen for those indicators during a crisis call. This does not change how we respond in getting someone to safety, but we want to get them connected to the best resources to help them once they are out of the situation.
The most important thing when providing services is making sure that survivors are fully in control of the decisions they make. Traffickers use an extreme amount of control to keep victims dependent, so empowering someone to take back their autonomy is imperative. Survivors decide what resources they want to reach out to, who they want to work with, and how they want to move forward. If they are not ready to report what happened to law enforcement, we will never push them to do so. We provide safety planning, information about resources and the processes they are interested in, and support so that survivors can create the goals that they want to accomplish.
The important thing is that abuse and trafficking are never a victim/survivor’s fault. You have been coerced and manipulated by an abuser who wanted to use you for their own personal gain. You have had to make incredibly hard choices or decisions that kept you safe in a particular moment and helped you survive. There is no excuse for abuse and trafficking. Survivors, you deserve to live the life you want.