Human Trafficking and Addiction

Human Trafficking and Addiction

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The Ohio Attorney General’s office reported that, as of 2017, drug and alcohol addiction were the most common factors leading to a person being used for trafficking. The undeniable link between human trafficking and addiction was again confirmed when a center for trafficking victims in Maine released findings that 66% of their clients believe drug or alcohol dependency was the main reason they were trafficked. In a study of trafficking victims spanning the United States, 84.3% reported that they used drugs or alcohol during their time in captivity.

Why do so many victims of human trafficking suffer from addiction?

Though the link between human trafficking and addiction is so clear, it is worth noting that the vast majority of people are using substances before they even become trafficked. In fact, in that same Maine study, there was found to be a mere 4.5% that began using substances for the first time while in captivity.

Addiction makes the victim more psychologically vulnerable and easy to manipulate. Once a person is using drugs, a potential captor need only provide a relatively reliable means of continuing that addiction in order to ensure cooperation. He may offer a place to stay and easy access to a continuous supply of drugs, or he may provide money in exchange for service – money which is then spent supporting the drug habit.   

In situations where the victim is not already addicted, the trafficker may offer or force drugs as a means of control.  Eventually, victims come to rely on drugs as a means of escape from reality or a coping mechanism to deal with the emotional or physical trauma.  Regardless of whether the trafficking or the addiction comes first, eliminating the reliance on drugs often eliminates most of the reliance on the captor.  

What are some of the warning signs that a loved one might be a victim of human trafficking and addiction?  

Victims of trafficking do not often verbally identify themselves as such. They are caught in a self-perpetuating cycle, and they often do not see a way out and could be afraid to ask for help. If you notice bruises, injection marks, or injuries that look like they might have come from a violent confrontation, these are clear warning signs that should not be ignored.  

The problem is that, even as a loved one of the potential victims, you might not be able to notice these warning signs. Trafficking victims, and a person struggling with addiction in general, frequently drift out of contact with family members and friends. You might find yourself wondering when you last spoke to this person and trying to remember if something seemed off.

When you do have contact, signs of physical abuse might still be obscured with clothing or makeup.  Psychological warning signs are even harder to spot.

If you suspect a loved one might be struggling with these issues, you can privately contact a drug rehabilitation facility or an anti-trafficking center for advice and help.   

Why is it so hard to escape from a life of human trafficking and addiction?

Substance dependency is difficult enough to deal with, but drug addiction may not be the only problem. Threats toward the victim or his or her family, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and financial dependence are all means of leverage that traffickers use to exert control.  

If a woman has a child with her captor, she may believe she is emotionally or financially dependent on her captor for the safety and security of her child. Even without children, Stockholm syndrome can cause victims, women in particular, to emotionally bond with their abusers and develop a sense of loyalty. Women in these scenarios are unlikely to turn against their traffickers even when given an opportunity.  

Regardless of the presence or absence of an emotional bond, a trafficker frequently presents himself as a companion or boyfriend to his victim, and may speak for them during doctor visits or other necessary interactions. He may also attempt to gaslight his victim and their family to make them all believe they are suffering from mental illness. This is a convenient way to explain any outbursts or odd behavior and reinforce the fact that they are entirely dependent on him for care.  

Learned helplessness is one of the psychological factors that captors use to control their captives. When a person is stuck in a situation and is mentally or physically punished each time he or she tries to escape or seek help, that person will come to the conclusion, over time, that there is no way out of that situation. After a while, he or she will not try to escape anymore, even if the opportunity presents itself. After all, seeking help has always resulted in getting hurt in the past.

All of these methods of control are even more effective if the victim is addicted to drugs. Drugs have a way of altering brain chemistry and thought patterns to make users more suggestible, more vulnerable, and less able to think logically. If escape from an abusive trafficker is difficult to begin with, it becomes almost impossible when drugs are in the mix.

Why Addiction Recovery is So Vital to Reduce Human Trafficking

Recovering from addiction clears the mind, restores brain chemistry to what it should be, and eliminates much of the victim’s dependence on the trafficker. A healthy, non-addicted brain does not get trapped in the cycle of constantly pursuing the next high and using any means possible to get it. If the victim does not need drugs anymore, there is no more fear of what will happen if the drug supply is withheld. He or she is freer to go against the captor’s wishes and break the cycle.  

Where Can I Go for Help?

Due to the complexity of human trafficking and addiction, you should search for a recovery facility that can help with all of the myriad issues relevant to your situation. A center that specializes in helping trafficking victims is ideal because there will likely be licensed therapists on staff and discreet access to medical care. The protocol will be different than in other rehab centers; things that might be normal for most recovering addicts, such as medical exams and restraints during detox, can feel like further trauma for abuse victims.  

Before any treatment takes place, rehabilitation clinics need to be able to recognize the warning signs of human trafficking when someone comes in for addiction treatment. Victims may not vocalize that they have been trafficked, even if they come in for substance abuse treatment under their own free will.

Rehabilitation clinics must also provide a safe and secure environment away from the trafficker. If a patient comes in and signals that she needs help, she could be putting herself in danger by doing so. Her captor may accompany her or try to visit, and the victim is not likely to be able to say no. The facility will need to recognize when this is happening and have a plan in place to remove the victim from the trafficker without triggering further abuse or confrontation.  

Conditions such as mental health issues often precede the trafficking and act as another point of vulnerability. Captors use this leverage to convince the victim they are “crazy” and that no one would believe them. This is one of the first illusions that must be broken for effective treatment to begin.  

What Type of Rehab is Best Equipped to Help in Recovery?

An experienced and qualified therapist and a dual diagnosis program at the rehab facility is vital.  In addition to addiction, human trafficking victims often have PTSD, depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders as a result of the abuse. Therapists should be empowering, creating an environment where the patient can transform from a trafficking victim into a trafficking survivor. Building self-worth and self-reliance in a safe environment is critical during the recovery period.  

Medical care needs to be discreet and easily accessible. Over 70% of trafficking victims have had at least one pregnancy, and over 20% report having five or more. Almost 30% have had multiple abortions, many of which are forced and are completed under horrific conditions. Many victims will have sexually transmitted diseases and injuries from rape. If medical care is not available at the facility itself, referrals must be made quickly and privately. Survivors are often not ready for family members to know the truth, and they may also still be hiding from captors. Patients will need a secure facility and the assurance that their identities will be kept secret in order to feel safe.  

Once a patient has started down the path to recovery, job placement and relocation into a halfway house will go a long way toward keeping him or her from falling back into the same addiction cycle that led to being trafficked. While it is not always feasible for rehabilitation clinics to offer all of these services under one roof, they should have a network of resources available for every stage of the recovery process.

Seeking Help

If you or someone you know is suffering from human trafficking and addiction, contact Ocean Hills Recovery today. Our trusted staff will work with you to help turn your life around. Our facility provides a safe and secure location for you to reach healing and sobriety. Call us today.



National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s “Framework for a Human Trafficking Protocol in Healthcare Settings”

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