Modern Slavery and PTSD
Human trafficking and sexual slavery are extremely difficult to talk about, not only because of the heavy nature of the subject, but because even though millions of people are affected by it, its dealings are mostly done in the dark. A person could live their whole life as a slave and nobody would ever know. In fact, this happens often. Estimates of how many slaves exist today vary widely, with estimates starting at 20,000,000 going all the way to 36,000,000. It is my personal opinion that the actual number of people enslaved must be even more than our most grandiose projections. Having watched over the years since the issue of modern slavery has taken more of an urgent place in the world of issues that need solving, the more rescues we do and the more research we do, the estimated number of slaves grows by the thousands. I can only imagine how much more that number must grow in the next 10 years.
The means by which someone is enslaved isn’t always how we may think it would be. It isn’t always dramatic in the Hollywood sense. It doesn’t always involve a forceful removal from one’s home, a big white van, kidnapping or even physical harm to the victim’s body. Often, one is forced to work against their will under the threat of their family or other means of coercion.
Tactics to enslave somebody are general put into 3 broad categories, though variations of the 3 are most often what is used:
“Bonded labor is one of the most common forms of slavery in the world today. Bonded labor victims are often born into slavery, forced to repay a loan, sometimes from generations before. Indebted, often through deception and a system stacked against them.
Forced labor is any work or service someone is forced to do, against their will, under the threat of punishment, with little to no pay. This is most frequently found in labor-intensive, under-regulated industries, such as agriculture, fishing, domestic work, construction, mining, quarrying and manufacturing.
Human trafficking is when someone is taken away from their home, family, or community and transported to another city or country, many times under a false promise of employment or a better life. Victims are stripped of their identity, then forced to work against their will, with no hope or way to return home.” (2)
Though slavery is not exclusive to any gender, race or upbringing, 80% of people effected are women, and the average age of someone sold for sex on the street is 12-14 years old. (1) Unfortunately, it’s estimated that only 1% of people enslaved will ever be rescued, and while in captivity slaves tend to live very short lives do to violence and forced drug addiction. (3)
A traumatic reaction occurs when all efforts to escape are to no avail, and one is rendered powerless to save themselves from the situation. The effects of PTSD only become more complex when trauma is repeated, especially daily, and one’s efforts to escape fail repeatedly.
PTSD, when boiled down, is when trauma stays in the primal part of your brain that controls fight or flight. When people live with PTSD they live on constant alert and high stress because a part of them is constantly reliving traumatic events. The trauma itself gets “stuck” in the fear based part of one’s brain where it remains there in a constant loop. How much more that loop gets entrenched when one is forced to repeat trauma daily for years. Prisoners of war, domestic abuse victims and slavery survivors have lived through situations of repeated trauma that give Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or CPTSD a reason to exist as its own diagnoses.
As complex as situations like slavery might make PTSD, that is not to say that it can never be healed from. Yes, scars remain even after healing occurs, but healing is possible. The situation of modern slavery is grim, but not hopeless. People are rescued often, pimps and traffickers are being held accountable for their crimes, and healing from both PTSD and CPTSD does and can happen. The more we address slavery, the more light gets shined on this crime that has remained in the dark for so long. Already we have seen what awareness can do to shine light on a problem with the amount of discovery that has been made in the past 10 years. As hopeful as that is, we still are not finished. We must continue to educate ourselves on the facts of slavery, and the mental effects it has on those victims as well. People are rescued every day, but understanding what they’ve been though once they’ve been rescued is also important