August 15, Orlando, FL
After assisting and serving hundreds of victims and survivors of human trafficking over the years, Florida Abolitionist CEO and Founder, Tomas Lares, is repeatedly asked one question, “Why don’t victims run?”
The simple answer is Psychology.
Victims are bound by invisible chains as traffickers groom their victims using manipulation and drug addiction.
Traffickers first establish relationships with their potential victims in a number of ways in the grooming process. They pretend to be interested in a romantic relationship, promise a lucrative career like modeling or singing, or other lies to gain the trust of a victim. After the relationship has begun, traffickers may introduce violence as a way to gain control.
During this period, known as “breaking,” traffickers focus on tearing down their victims’ spirits. They know the strongest way to control them is through their hearts, so there is often a lot of emotional abuse involved. After becoming accustomed to the love and approval of the trafficker, withholding affection can be even more painful than physical violence.
Put yourself in the shoes of a young person. You want to feel loved and valued more than anything. Someone comes along and tells you everything you long to hear for weeks or months and then stops suddenly. You might go to extremes to earn their love back, even if there are dire consequences.
Often, traffickers lie to their potential victims, promising them a wonderful future full of wealth, excitement, or love. They most often pretend to be interested in romantic relationships. Sometimes they keep up this muse for months before forcing their victims into slavery and continue to tease their victims with affection while exploiting them.
Young people are looking for love and sometimes find it in the arms of a trafficker. These master manipulators target vulnerable youth and exploit their vulnerabilities. If they need love, they give them love; if they need to be told they are beautiful, the words roll off their tongues; if they need money, traffickers paint a picture of fame and fortune.
Victims may receive praise from their trafficker when they lie to the police or earn a lot of money. This praise can become a driving force motivating a victim and as a result, the trafficker gains even more control. They live to please their trafficker because he or she gives them the affection they crave. Victims may even receive a different name and take on a separate identity, giving the trafficker full control to create an individual that belongs to them and lives for their approval.
As if the emotional manipulation were not enough, traffickers frequently give their victims drugs to gain even more control.
Dependent upon their trafficker for drugs, victims are often willing to endure terrible things to receive the chemicals their bodies crave. Traffickers threaten to withhold drugs if quotas are not met or give more as a reward for good behavior. Opioids and other hard drugs create a strong chemical dependence that the trafficker happily manages.
In addition, many survivors have said the influence of drugs was the only way to endure the horrific and demeaning acts they were forced to perform in sex trafficking.
The grooming process using manipulation and drug addiction work together to create invisible chains. As a result, victims often suffer from the Stockholm syndrome. This is a condition that causes hostages to develop a psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy during captivity. This alliance makes it extremely unlikely that people who are exploited in sex trafficking will run. The trauma bonds are deep and often lead people to run back into the arms of traffickers even after they are recovered.
Survivors must walk a difficult road of healing to find complete freedom. They are brave, strong, and we commend them for their tenacity. Survivors of human trafficking are true heroes and we honor them!
To hear an interview with our founder on this very topic, click the image below…
by Blair Pippin
Creative & Prevention Director • Florida Abolitionist