A Perspective on Human Trafficking

By Maria Espinola, M.S.
July 23, 2012

It has been estimated that there are 12.3 million slaves in the world. The victims are
mainly women and children who are forced to work in prostitution, agriculture or
domestic work. Approximately 17,500 people get trafficked annually into the United
States and 325,000 American children are currently at risk of sexual exploitation.

Some of the victims are abducted and others are recruited with promises of a better life, love and marriage, jobs or education. The traffickers prevent the victims from escaping by using physical and sexual violence, deceit and lies, threats against them and their families, coercion and psychological manipulation. As a result of their traumatic experiences, trafficked victims may develop post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and dependency and suicidal ideation.

When psychologists get portrayed in the media, they usually appear in pleas-ant offices, saying one or two mean-ingful interpretations between “mmhm” and
“our time is up.” This unfortunate image plus the lack of emphasis on the importance of advocacy in psychology programs leads many people to believe that there is very little psychologists can do for the 12.3 million people who are being enslaved around the world other than wait for them to come for therapy.

Most psychology professors spend time teaching students how they can empower
their clients but they fail to empower students to do more than just therapy. As a result, very few of them graduate think-ing that their professional activities should
involve anything beyond offering individual and group sessions. Although offering treatments for human trafficking victims is fundamental, most victims will never have the oppor-tunity to see a psychologist as long as social indifference toward the issue remains the same.

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