Most victims of trafficking will have suffered one or more traumatic events and will have adopted psychological tactics to cope with the effects of these events. To begin to understand these reactions, it is important to first understand a bit about “trauma”.
What is trauma?
“The essence of trauma is that it overwhelms the victim’s psychological and biological coping mechanisms. This occurs when internal and external resources are inadequate to cope with the external threat.”
Traumatic experiences suffered by victims of trafficking in persons are often complex, multiple and can occur over a long period of time. For many individuals who are trafficked, abuse or other trauma-inducing events may have started long before the trafficking process.
Studies of trauma in cases of trafficking in persons have been conducted, but there are few of them. Studies so far tend to focus on trafficking for sexual exploitation but yet to cover victims from every origin location. However, they offer some guidance and conclusions, especially when they are considered in conjunction with what is generally known about trauma and anecdotal evidence from around the world. No two victims of trafficking are the same and the impact trafficking has upon each individual varies.
Individuals will react in different ways. Victims can react in a hostile or aggressive way. Victims may have adopted these tactics and emotions to cope with or to survive their ordeal. It is likely that they would react to anyone in the same way. Not every victim will react to the investigation with hostility, but many will. Do not see this as your fault or that of the victim and do not respond to any hostility in a negative way.
Challenging and direct questioning too early is very likely to alienate the victim and may re-traumatize the victim. Challenging a victim’s veracity, treating the victim as a suspect or showing doubt or signs of disbelief are likely to remind him or her of the defensive position they held during the trafficking ordeal. This is likely to destroy any chance of cooperation. Avoid this approach at all costs. A considered, methodical and non-judgmental approach has the best chance of revealing the truth whatever it may be.
Levels of psychological trauma experienced by some victims (either before or during the trafficking process) may be so high that they are never going to be able to serve as witnesses in court or even give an account that can be used as the basis of intelligence. On the other hand, it is also possible that some individuals who initially present strong emotional reactions, may, with time and professional support or counselling, become perfectly capable witnesses.
What symptoms does traumatization produce in victims of trafficking in persons?
The next part looks at the effect traumatization may have on the health of victims. Investigators have a general duty of care for victims, but that is not the main reason the health of victims is explored here. You are required to investigate trafficking in persons offences as efficiently and effectively as possible. You will not be able to do this unless you are aware of how victims’ health may be affected and what you should do to ensure your investigation takes account of the issues this poses for you
Current evidence of the health effects of physical and sexual violence highlights that when such abuse is frequent and severe, it is likely to result in a host of health problems, including physical injury, sexual health problems, chronic somatic health consequences, and poor longterm mental health.