Note: If you see someone you suspect is being trafficked, contact the Human Trafficking Hotline via phone call 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733. If someone is in immediate danger, call 911.
The media runs a lot of stories covering extractions of human trafficking survivors. Usually the media calls these rescues, but extraction is a more accurate word since rescuing a survivor entails a much longer process than helping them escape from a trafficking situation.
Extractions are heroic and exciting operations absolutely vital in the battle against human trafficking. Once the excitement dies down from a survivor being found however, the survivor still has a long road of healing ahead. Communities often forget that survivors still require care long after they are extracted to successfully heal. On average, a human trafficking survivor returns to their trafficker 7 to 12 times after initial extraction. To prevent a survivor from returning to being trafficked, communities must provide care long after a survivor is extracted, hence the term aftercare.
What is aftercare?
Aftercare provides a survivor with the resources s/he needs to successfully heal. While exact statistics are difficult to measure, upon extraction, aftercare truly makes the difference in keeping a survivor from returning to her/his trafficker. The importance of aftercare in anti-human trafficking efforts makes sense. A human trafficker will control nearly every aspect of a survivor’s life. Once the survivor escapes, s/he is extremely vulnerable because the trafficker pulled the survivor into a web of dependency. So that the survivor does not feel s/he needs to return to her/his trafficker to have basic needs met, effective aftercare meets survivors’ financial, temporal, emotional, and psychological needs. The goal is to empower a survivor and keep her/him free from modern-day slavery.
Twisted as it is, traffickers provide those they trafficked some level of financial stability–or at least the illusion of stability. Without stable income, a survivor might see no other option than to return to the streets. A long-term investment in a survivor’s professional success, including job training and financial support during a survivor’s job search, is essential in preventing their return to the streets.
Right after being extracted, a survivor is not in a place to hold a job. S/he will need financial support while receiving counseling and other services to get back on her/his feet. With the right care, a survivor will get to a place where s/he can hold a steady job. At this point in the aftercare process, an organization should connect the survivor with job training and networking opportunities.
Fact: “Victims are resistant to accepting help because traffickers give them money, attention, shelter, drugs and relevance, said Sgt. Grant Snyder, a trafficking investigator and expert with the Minneapolis Police Department” (1).
Most aftercare and rehabilitation centers are already filled to capacity. Organizations and communities need to create more safe places for survivors to land. Survivors need specialized housing to stay safe (4). If the survivor is a citizen of another country, they need to be repatriated. Successful repatriation comes with its own set of requirements, including “conducting a needs assessment, securing travel documents, making travel arrangements, and accompanying minors while in transit” (5). Organizations need to coordinate a safe landing for the survivor in her/his country as “some organized trafficking rings know when and how survivors will return and intercept survivors before they can reach safe shelter” (5). A safe landing will include “psychological, legal and medical aid” and “staff members, who meet, accompany, and transport a [survivor] upon return” (5).
Fact: A 2017 survey of homeless youth found that 1 in 5 had been trafficked for sex, labor, or both. LGBTQ individuals were disproportionately more likely to be trafficked, with 27% saying they had been trafficked for sex and accounted for 34% of all individuals who had been trafficked for sex in the survey.
The average age of a female being trafficked is 12 (1). Yes, 12 years old. 12 is the beginning of the ages critical for social and emotional development. As you can imagine, a survivor rescued at age 18 after surviving countless traumatic events will likely suffer from low self-esteem, complex PTSD, and other trauma-related conditions (2). For these survivors, trauma-informed counselors and therapists can help them heal. It takes a long time to heal from ongoing trauma – even years. “Given the trauma bond that often exists between victims and offenders, it is common for sex trafficking survivors to return to their victimizer, especially when adequate services are absent.” (3) Also important to remember is that low self-esteem could have made a survivor vulnerable to being trafficked in the first place. Keeping all of this in mind, continual aftercare support is absolutely vital in keeping survivors from returning to the very situation that harmed them.
Fact: At first, human trafficking survivors might say they do not need help because they chose their lifestyle and are free to leave when they please. This belief stems from brainwashing and ongoing abuse by their trafficker. “Getting [survivors] to leave ‘the life’ for a shelter or rehabilitation is a delicate dance, involving such tactics as letting them choose something as simple as what to eat for dinner. [Then] they start realising they were not free to make their own choices when they were being trafficked” (1).
People with underlying mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are more vulnerable to being trafficked. Trauma from being trafficked can also exacerbate these conditions. The “reduced decision-making capacity or understanding and increased dependence on others” resulting from mental health conditions increase the risk a person will be trafficked. Successful aftercare for individuals with underlying mental health conditions includes getting them the psychological care and medications they need.
Addiction is another mental health condition that proper aftercare will help survivors overcome. To keep control over those trafficked, traffickers often get those they trafficked addicted to drugs. Drug addiction has physical and psychological complications that are an immediate danger for a survivor’s health. Services need to administer drug addiction care to survivors in a non-judgemental manner, as stigma associated with drug addiction could lead a survivor to return to her/his trafficker out of shame or desperation.
Fact: A number of studies have found that trauma-related conditions are prevalent in human trafficking survivors. “Oram et al (2016) found that symptoms of depression, anxiety and PTSD were reported by 78% of women and 40% of men survivors in England. Similarly, a study of trafficked people in Greater Mekong sub-region found that 61% of men and 67% of women, as well as 57% of children, reported probable depression (i.e. symptoms indicative of depression as measured by a standardised screening tool) and probable PTSD was reported by 46% of men, 44% of women and 27% of children (Kiss et al, 2015)” (2).
How You Can Help
Since human trafficking is growing rapidly, organizations that provide aftercare are stretched thin. You can donate money, items, and time to these organizations to support the battle against human trafficking. Along with financial donations, Global E.P. collects items for Rescue Packs to immediately support survivors upon extraction. These items include: backpacks, mini toiletries, pajamas, flip-flops, small treats, water bottles, chapstick, journals, and pens. You can donate these items by contacting email@example.com.
Helping a human trafficking survivor transition to life after being trafficked requires continued care from the community. Communities need to assist with financial, temporal, emotional, and psychological needs of survivors. This article only touches on a few of the challenges human trafficking survivors face post-extraction. Survivors also deal with a multitude of physical complications. It can also not be understated that the effects of trauma are usually very intense and long-lasting. Survivors need a strong aftercare network to support them so that they can live in true freedom.
Global E.P. provides and coordinates aftercare for human trafficking survivors. There is a trememendous need for aftercare and only with proper aftercare, we will win the fight on human trafficking and modern slavery. We partner with Adaptive Ops, a non-profit which extracts survivors, to streamline the process and expertise required to get human trafficking survivors away from the streets forever.