10 Types of Invisible Chains Traffickers Use to Keep Victims in Slavery

By Amanda Kloer

slaveryWhy don’t human trafficking victims who aren’t physically confined or chained up just leave? Because traffickers use many types of invisible chains, tactics of control and abuse, to confine victims in other ways. Think about these scenarios as if you were a trafficking victim and ask yourself, “if someone did this to me, could I leave?” Some common invisible chains are:

1. Coercion and Threats. Often, traffickers will threaten to rape, beat, murder or traffic the victim’s children, spouse or family. This is a powerful threat, especially when you know the trafficker knows exactly where your family lives. Traffickers may also threaten to tell your family or community that you have been in prostitution or doing demeaning work. They may tell you what a failure you will be if you stop working.

2. Controlling Perception. Traffickers control victims’ perception of their situation and the world by being their primary or only source of information. If the traffickers are the only people you know in the place you are, and they tell you that the police will beat, imprison or deport you, would you call the cops? The traffickers have also told you that you have no rights. They have told you the government is corrupt and everyone in the community is their friend.  How about now?

3. Creating Dependencies. Traffickers often attempt to make their victims completely dependent. They may control physical items such as your passport or identification. They may force or entice you to take drugs or drink alcohol and become addicted. Traffickers also create economic dependencies by controlling all the your money and/or food.

4. Economic Abuse. Economic abuse is extremely common in human trafficking situations. Debt bondage- excessive debt enforced under abusive and unreasonable conditions -binds can bind you to your traffickers, especially if the traffickers have told you you’ll be thrown in jail if you don’t repay the debt. You can easily be trapped in a never ending cycle of fabricated debt and/or control of your money.

5. False Promises. Sometimes hope is the strongest weapon. The traffickers may have made you promises- earning money for your family, safety for yourself and your kids or even love from the trafficker. These promises are what lured you into exploitation and what keeps you here. Children are especially vulnerable to such manipulation.

6. Indulgences. One strong control tactic for creating emotional dependencies is providing occasional indulgences, like gifts, affection or information. These indulgences, especially when coupled with the false promises, lure you into a false sense of security and trust.

7. Isolation. Traffickers may isolate victims by limiting contact with others and monitoring conversations. Traffickers may prevent you from talking to your family or people in your same ethnic or religious group. They may repeatedly tell you that you are all alone in your situation, that no one will help or believe you, that you have no legal rights, that what has happened is your fault, or that there is no hope.

8. Minimizing and Blaming: Traffickers may reinforce internalizing blame by telling you that you’re worthless, deserving of the abuse, or owned by another person. The trafficker claims you are personal property, which both minimizes you and justifies the abuse.

9. Privilege: Cultural, Religious and/or Gender. Sometimes, traffickers are of a dominate race/religion/gender compared to the victim. They may degrade your religious or cultural beliefs or force you to do things against your religion or culture. Male traffickers will often use gender privilege to control female victims, including using rape and sexual abuse as control tactics.

10. Sexual Abuse. Sexual abuse doesn’t always have to be physical, such as rape, or sexual assault. Sometimes, sexual harassment and threatened sexual violence are even more effective tools of control. The trafficker may call you degrading sexual names or threaten to rape or assault you.

These are just a few of the invisible chains which traffickers use to keep their slaves.  Sadly, many of these are just as effective if not more so than actually locking a victim up with chains.

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