By: Maky Myers
Ascent 121 is often asked how people are drawn in to trafficking and why victims don’t leave their traffickers at the first opportunity. Trauma bonding is frequently the reason. This post is intended to help readers better understand what trauma bonding looks like in the context of domestic minor sex trafficking.
Lost, alone, and looking for love and attention, and looking for it anywhere. This creates the perfect recipe for disaster, and in the worst cases, the most toxic of relationships.
The men have learned to find the easiest targets by looking for vulnerability. They prey on girls who seem distant or disconnected from family. They find girls who have not generally been shown what a healthy relationship looks like, let alone a healthy romantic relationship. Many of these men find their victims at gas stations or malls, public places or other places that potential victims consider to be safe.
Trauma bonding is an unhealthy relationship formed between a victim and her perpetrator. Although it rarely makes sense looking from the outside in, it makes all too much sense to the young girls who find themselves in situations involving trafficking.
Bonds are formed in any relationship. A trafficking relationship generally starts with a girl in search for love, whether she’s missing it at home or just caught up in being a teenager. The man takes notice and begins to groom her.
Grooming is a way of building that relationship and gaining trust. He earns her trust by buying her nice things and promising to help her reach her goals and dreams. She might see what is going on around her, but he assures her their relationship is different, and she believes him. She completely believes that she is in control of the situation and that his intentions are good.
Slowly, he’ll begin asking her to do things, telling her, “It’s only for a while, until we can get enough money to get away.” Because she is desperate for the relationship to continue and feels a connection to him, she agrees. If she refuses, the threats begin. This lifestyle has now become a means of survival.
As this goes on, it begins to take its toll on the girls. Trafficking victims quickly grow out of touch with their feelings and become unable to create healthy relationships, even just friendships. Victims of sex trafficking begin using manipulation to get what they want. They keep their interests in the forefront of their mind and no one else’s. As they try to build relationships, they generally don’t get too far. They are not comfortable with themselves. Therefore, they are not comfortable letting others know their true selves.
The good news is that healthy relationships can be restored. It’s not an easy road, and it takes a lot of people to travel that road with the girls. But, just as with any other skill, practice makes perfect. With enough practice our brains can actually be re-wired and learn how to create and contribute to healthy relationships.