Why Don't Those Victims Just Leave?

One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is “Why don’t the victims of human trafficking get help? Why can’t they escape?" The answers are varied and complex. Traffickers maintain control through violence: Repeated rapes, brutal beatings, threats of severe harm to the victim and often to their family.

Lies, deception and psychological manipulation and abuse are important weapons in the trafficker’s repertoire also. The process used to break a victim’s spirit and make them compliant is known as "seasoning," "grooming," or "conditioning."  Manuals exist that teach traffickers the art.

In the US, there are documented cases of water torture, burnings, confinement, withholding of food and water, horrible beatings, and branding of women and girls. Some are forced to take addictive drugs.

Foreign victims find themselves a new and unknown culture, unable to speak the language and fed lies that make them fearful of the police and service providers. They, as well as domestic victims, are often shuttled from place to place to keep them disoriented, isolated and completely dependent on the trafficker.

“Biderman’s Chart of Coercion,” published by Amnesty International in 1973, describes in detail coercive techniques (besides physical torture) used to gain control of political prisoners -- techniques such as isolation, induced debility and exhaustion, threats, degradation, enforcing of trivial demands, granting of occasional indulgences, to mention a few. These are the same means (as well as physical torture) which are used to subjugate trafficked women and girls Such a victim may give every appearance of freely choosing to sell her body, while the unseen forces that condition her to be there are every bit as real as if they were made of yards of barbed wire.

Thanks to Lisa Thompson of the Salvation Amy for some of this material and for her tireless work as an abolitionist.