The United Nations states that most women right after a trafficking experience, will have multiple health problems which include both physical and mental issues.
In last month’s ‘The Safe House’ blog, I wrote about the idea of trafficking victims only being thought of as the people who are still stuck in modern day slavery. I went on to explain that freed slaves are still victims and we shouldn’t forget about their past and future struggles to come that usually include many psychological struggles. In order to shine light on the various symptoms victims of human trafficking may face in their lives, I looked to the United Nations’ online services for information.
The United Nations office on drugs and crime has a lot of helpful information about human trafficking and the logistics when dealing with it in a legal setting. The website includes a module called ‘Anti-human trafficking manual for criminal justice practitioners’ which revolves a lot around the effects human trafficking can have on humans. Evidence shows that when physical and sexual violence is intense and frequent, the effects on the body and mind can be extremely damaging. Victims can suffer from various health problems, injuries from violence and bad mental health in the long run.
The module categorises these damaging issues and effects of trafficking, into 4 different categories of symptoms; concurrent, physical, mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder. In the concurrent symptom category of the module, the facts are quite devastating and really prove the idea that victims are still victims once they have been freed. The United Nations states that most women right after a trafficking experience, will have multiple health problems which include both physical and mental issues.
A study that took place in Europe shows us that between 0 days and 2 weeks after victims were freed, over 57% of these women experienced twelve or more physical health symptoms that caused them pain, due to their unfortunate situations. In regards to mental health, 70% of women reported ten or more mental health symptoms within the same time frame. The mental health symptoms were shown to have a longer term effect on the women and their psychological reactions were similar to or exceeded that of torture victims.
Within the physical symptoms category, fatigue, weight loss, neurological symptoms, and gastrointestinal problems were most commonly reported across the board. 82% of women showed signs of fatigue in the first two weeks of returning to society. 41% of the victims still showed fatigue symptoms after 90 days which highlights the enormity of stress their bodies must have endured whilst being trafficked and forced to ‘work’ long and gruelling hours. Sleep loss can have very damaging effects on humans which causes even more issues for victims when trying to return to normality.
In the mental health section of the United Nations’ model, the symptoms that are shown to have occurred most in victims are depression, anxiety and hostility. The victims in the European study still showed signs of mental health issues, even after 3 months of rehabilitation which carried out for long periods of times. The level of depression of these women after 3 months were still so high that they belonged in the top 10 percent of the most depressed women on average in a population.
The mental health problems create a difficult head space to be in when a victim wants to return to a social life. These issues can stop victims from reconnecting with family and also returning to work or school. Hostility in victims only further creates a barrier between themselves and the rest of the world. Victims may come off as unpleasant and uninterested which isolates them from society even more.
In the last section of the module we have post-traumatic stress disorder. Studies have shown that many sex-trafficked victims specifically, show signs of PTSD when attempting to return to their regular lives. It has also been shown that victims that didn’t just experience a singular traumatic event, but on-going and frequent abuse, show symptoms of a slightly different PTSD that is called complex post-traumatic stress disorder. This causes victims to be hyper-prepared to deal with stressful events.
I hope that these facts and figures shine a greater light on the severity of the impact trafficking has on victims. These people may be free in a physical sense, but many victims will have emotional scars for the rest of their lives.