Sex trafficking is a global phenomenon that is occuring all around the world. Sex trafficking is a modern form of slavery through abducting and illegally recruiting victims for the purpose of sexual exploitation. It is an industry that earns $150 billion dollars a year. However, what many people fail to realize is the detrimental effects it has on the victims mental and physical health. Sex trafficking causes critical health issues that needs to be recognized by healthcare providers.
MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS
Victims who have escaped sex trafficking typically experience mental disorders and psychological illnesses such as, anxiety, depression, panic disoder, substance abuse, suicidal tendancies, Stockholm Sydrome, and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Stockholm Syndrome is a very common illness sex trafficking victims endure. Stockholm Syndrome, also known as traumatic bonding is where victims find it challenging to leave their abusers. This is because victims use their Stockholm Syndrome as a survival mechanism. They are petrified to leave their abusers in fear of being physically harmed or killed. Sometimes, victims become contingent towards their abusers for a sense of security, food, shelter, and clothes. Furthermore, hostages also portray their abusers demeaning behavior as receptive. This is because they develop a mindset that involves thinking like, “they could have done worse” or “they did not mean to”.
Victims of sex trafficking often experience extreme emotional trauma due to separation from their families, friends, and local communities. In terms of emotional health, victims often report feeling hopelessness, guilt, reoccurring nightmares, lack of confidence, denial, distrust, and low self-esteem. Due to these these mental health issues, victims use drugs to cope. This leads to substance abuse that can impact their physical health. These drugs include, marijuana, prescription opioids (morphine, methadone, oxycodone, cocaine, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and Dimethyltryptamine (DMT).
PHYSICAL HEALTH PROBLEMS
Victims physical health deems to be just as severe as their mental health. While undergoing barbaric living conditions, victims may experience an improper diet or starvation. Medically, this is known as malnutrition. Food deprivation is often times used as a tactic to manipulate and scare victims. Another technique used to control victims is the use of physical force and torture. Injuries such as broken bones, burns, scars, broken teeth are very common. Moreover, these injuries usually go untreated leading to ongoing health affects. Consistent beatings can also result in concussions and tramatic brain injuries. Consequently, victims experience headaches, migraines, dizziness, and memory loss. In a study conducted by Janice Raymond, she found that 65% of victims reported broken ribs, toes, backbone and spinal cord.
In a series of interviews hosted by the U.S Department of Homeland Security, they discussed the experience various sex trafficking victims faced. At the age of 17, a young woman named Laura was sexually trafficked. She reported that her abuser would, “beat me until he was absolutely tired. I was covered in bruises, my face was completely disfigured and it’s causing me issue with my back to this day because of the way he was beating me and torturing me”.
Sex trafficking victims commonly live in an unhygienic and unsanitary home environment. This is proven to be harmful to their health. Infectious diseases that could be easily avoided are predominant in the sex traffic industry. These transmittable diseases include, malaria, tuberculosis (TB), hepatitis, and pneumonia.
In addition, long lasting health problems is a major consequence due to obvious neglect and physical abuse. HIV/AIDS is extremely prevalent among sex trafficking victims. In a study conducted by Harvard School of Public Health, they found that in underdeveloped countries, 56% of victims were HIV positive. In an unprotected n, victims of sex slavery are forced to practice unsafe sex. Unfortunately, this increases the risk of unwanted pregnancies, reproductive complications, and sexually transmitted diseases. These STD’s consist of syphillis, gonorrhea, pubic lice, and urinary track infections (UTI’s). 73.4% survivors of sex slavery reported to have some form of STI/STD’s. On top of these negative health impacts, women and child are prone to rectal damage, vaginal tearing and bleeding, and acute pelvic pain. In regards to reproductive health, women face menstrual issues, frequent miscarriages, female, genital mutilation (FGM), and forced abortions.
In 2017, CNN did a report on Karla Jacinto. At the age of 12, she was abducted and put into the sex traffic industry for 4 years. During those four years, Jacinto stated that 43,200 times. Over that course, she was forced to have sex with up to 30 men a day, 7 days a week. Jacinto consistently faced vaginal tearing and bleeding. Since unprotected forced sex was involved, eventually Jacinto got pregnant and gave birth at the age of 15. On a surface level, Karla’s horrifying experience of sex trafficking shows the impact it can have on victim’s physical health.
In order to successfully help these victims, healthcare providers must work on improving assistance and enable proper health screenings for victims. Furthermore, governments among different nations should allow these victims easy and free access to support groups, therapy, and doctor visits. If you know someone that is a survivor of sex trafficking, be patient with them. Let them know that there are professionals that are willing to help them. Give them access to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center where they can request services or report a tip. Not only can you help these victims, but you can help raise awarness by joining your local communities fight to combat sex trafficking.