The Psychological Impact of Human Trafficking on Survivors


Once filled with hope about the future, their eyes now reflect a profound darkness created by the horrors they’ve endured. Each waking moment, they grapple with the indelible scars etched upon their hearts, constantly reliving the nightmare that was their reality. 

The psychological impact of human trafficking is a relentless reminder of the torment and exploitation they experienced as victims of human trafficking. However, there’s a glimmer of strength and hope within the bleak reminders of their harrowing journey that’s a testament to the amazing spirit of human trafficking survivors. It’s a solemn reminder of the dire need for compassion, understanding, and solidarity as we strive to mend the shattered pieces of broken lives caused by human trafficking.

Human trafficking, a global issue with far-reaching consequences, is not only a human rights violation but also leaves an indelible psychological scar on its victims. 


7 Possible Psychological Impacts Affecting Human Trafficking Survivors

Survivors of human trafficking experience severe psychological distress, often marked by symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex trauma, depression, anxiety, other mental health conditions, and more. The following list covers a few of the issues survivors may have:


1.   PTSD and Complex Trauma

Survivors often have PTSD or experience multiple traumatic events, leading to what experts call complex trauma or CPTSD that arises from prolonged, repeated trauma. 

A European Journal of Psychiatry study found that more than 40% of survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking had CPTSD. People suffering from CPTSD often have difficulty regulating emotions, memory, attention, distorted self-perception, and problems relating to others.


2.   Major Depressive Disorders

Many survivors experience depression, negatively affecting how a person feels, thinks, and behaves. It’s characterized by a persistent feeling of sadness or a lack of interest in things. 

Depression can also cause excessive or inappropriate guilt, recurrent suicidal ideation, and alter a person’s ability to make decisions or concentrate. It can also cause sleep disturbances, including insomnia (inability to sleep) or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) daily.

In addition, depression can take a physical toll. For some people, it can lead to significant weight loss or gain. Other people report feeling restless or moving slower than usual and fatigue or energy loss.


3.   Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and various phobia-related disorders. For example, survivors might have an overwhelming fear of the authorities (especially if they were initially approached as criminals rather than victims) or be triggered by people and places that remind them of their trauma.


4.   Dissociative Disorders

These disorders involve problems with memory, identity, emotion, perception, behavior, and sense of self. Dissociative symptoms can potentially emerge in extreme cases of traumatic stress.


5.   Self-Harm and Suicidal Ideation

Psychological distress often leads to self-destructive behaviors, including self-harm and suicidal ideation.


6.   Eating Disorders

Some survivors may develop unhealthy eating habits as a coping mechanism. 

For example, it’s not uncommon for survivors to develop anorexia nervosa (an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image, leading to self-starvation and excessive weight loss), bulimia nervosa (consuming large amounts of food and attempting to prevent weight gain through purging), or pica (the consumption of non-nutritive substances like soil, paper, soap, pebbles, etc.), to name a few.


7.   Substance Use Disorders

Trafficking survivors may rely on alcohol or drugs to self-medicate and cope with their traumatic experiences, which can lead to addiction.


The Path to Recovery

Despite these severe mental health issues, survivors of human trafficking show remarkable resilience. Recovery is possible with access to comprehensive mental health services. The psychological impact of human trafficking on survivors is profound and multi-faceted, echoing the extreme violation of human rights.


Help Us Provide Hope 

Human trafficking is an overwhelming issue. One person alone can’t stop it, but we can make a difference together. Your contributions help our committed staff and volunteers work 365 days a year to fight human trafficking and support survivors. Every donation can change the life of someone victimized by human trafficking. No matter the size, every effort can deliver help and hope to the most vulnerable. 

The generosity of our supporters has helped us provide a safe life for people who were once victims of trafficking, including shelter, food, and medical care for those in need. Together, we can change and save lives!