Psychological and Physical Effects Of Sex Trafficking On Its Victims

"I was on the swim team, I was a cheerleader and I was involved in student council," Natasha, a victim of sex trafficking told AMW. "I feel like I lived a picture perfect life."

Natasha was 19-years-old when she was approached by a woman while shopping at the mall. The woman told her she loved her makeup and had been looking for someone to join their makeup team. They did makeup for movies and fashion shows. She told Natasha she thought she would be perfect for the job and gave Natasha her business card in case she was interested. The offer seemed legitimate to Natasha and after a phone interview, filling out some paperwork, and a makeup test she was asked to meet the woman and the woman’s boss at a restaurant to go over some final details. But while she was at the restaurant, something felt wrong.

“I felt like the woman started being short with me, and uncomfortable,” Natasha told America’s Most Wanted. “I felt like she was looking at her boss in a weird way. I started getting a completely different vibe.”

She decided to leave the restaurant and never come back, but the woman and man had different plans for her. As soon as she stepped outside the restaurant, she was forced into a car and kidnapped.  She was taken to a home and left in a room for days without contact to the outside world. Once she was taken out of the room, her life changed forever.


Rosa was just 13-years-old and working as a waitress in a small Mexican village, when a family acquaintance told her about a higher paying waitressing job in the US that could help support her family. It took awhile for Rosa to convince her family to let her take the job, but finally she did. Soon after, she and a few other girls traveled on foot across the border to a rundown trailer where they were told they would be working. But that work, she was told, was not waitressing… it was prostituting.  At that point, Rosa’s life changed forever.

For these two girls, it was a life they never imagined, but once they were in it, it was a life they couldn’t get out of. Both became victims of the sex (human) trafficking industry.

According to AMW,

Rosa was gang-raped and locked up like a prisoner until she agreed to do what she was told. She lived under 24-hour watch and was forced to engage in sexual relations with up to 30 men a day. When she got pregnant, she was forced to have an abortion, then sent back to work the next day.

As for Natasha,

According to Natasha and the police, Spyder had many girls working for him. To control Natasha, police say Spyder threatened to kill her family if she ever tried escape. Natasha told AMW she was also physically beaten when she didn’t comply with his rules.

“The fear was constant,” Natasha said. “It was constant: ‘please don’t hurt my family. I will do whatever you want.'”

For millions of people around the world this fear is real. According to Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking, it is estimated that somewhere between 700,000 and four million women, children and men are trafficked each year, and no region is unaffected. (Numbers are varying however because many organizations report different numbers, as can be seen in the photo below.) UNICEF reports more than one million children enter the sex trade yearly.

The stories you read above about Natasha and Rosa are common in the sex trafficking world, both for men and women. Traffickers typically lure women to the U.S. with false promises of jobs as waitresses, nannies, models, factory workers, and other work. The Department of Health and  Human Services also say traffickers lure people by false marriage proposals turned into bondage situations, parents, husbands, and boyfriends selling the victim into sex trade, and people being kidnapped to be taken into an operation. Men can be forced into working at brothels, sweatshops, construction sites and fields. According to UNFPA, as illegal migrant workers, they may be subjected to sexual violence, horrific living conditions, threats against their families and dangerous workplaces. Once lured, the victims are prevented from leaving by fear and heavy security.  They can also be confined, starved, beaten, raped, and shamed.

Recently I’ve noticed many stories in the news about being people jailed for running these sorts of operations. But what goes unreported is the effects sex trafficking has on the victims. Although the justice of having the traffickers jailed, I’m sure feels good, they still have to live with the psychological and physical trauma.

Photo from East Villagers Non-Profit News

So what does happen to these victims once they go through this horror? Documentation isn’t too in-depth, especially the effects on men, but it is shown that:

women in the sex industry sustain the same kinds of injuries as women who are battered, raped and sexually assaulted. The difference is that when women are subjected to these same injuries in the context of prostitution, the violence is ignored, or redefined as sex. “Rough sex,” sadism, and rape are often accepted as “job liabilities” or “occupational hazards.” When unwanted sexual behavior is perpetrated against non-prostituted women on the job, it is called sexual harassment. When men in a sex club or brothel pay for the same behavior, it is accepted as commercial “sex work.”

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, heath risks include:

  • Drug and alcohol addiction
  • Broken bones, concussions, burns
  • Traumatic brain injury – perhaps resulting in memory loss
  • dizziness, headaches, and numbness
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Sterility
  • Miscarriages or forced abortions
  • Other diseases like TB and hepatitis

According to a study done by Dr. Janice Raymond at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Donna Hughes at the University of Rhode Island, 35 percent of the US women and 7 percent of international women they interviewed reported major bones, such as ribs and vertebrae, and smaller bones, such as fingers and toes were broken. Eighty percent of the US women and 50 percent of the international women reported bruises. Almost half of the US women reported head injuries that may have caused unconsciousness and required stitches. Sixty-five percent of the US women and 38 percent of international women reported vaginal bleeding. Fifty-three percent of the US women reported other injuries that included sprains and stab wounds.

Even more disturbing is the access… or should I say non-access… these people have to health care when they needed it. Raymond and Hughes write two-thirds of the international women they talked to didn’t have access saying,

“I never ever went to a doctor, even when I was pregnant.”

“I wanted to. There was a local doctor who came to see us, but he couldn’t do much. I couldn’t go there myself, they didn’t let me.”

The study says less than 35 percent of the international and US women reported that they had been seen at a hospital or clinic. All of the US women said the health service was good compared to the 44 percent of international women. About 40 percent for both of these groups said the doctor they saw were aware they were in the sex industry, but only one woman was referred to the social services.  One-fourth of the women even reported doctors were brought into the sex establishments.

While in the industry and even after escaping, the victims face an array of psychological effects:

  • Mind/body separation and disassociated ego states
  • Shame
  • Grief
  • Fear
  • Distrust
  • Self-hatred, suicide and suicidal thoughts
  • At very high risk for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which can include anxiety, depression, insomnia, physical hyper-alertness, and self-loathing

Fortunately for Natasha she was rescued and although she lived in horror for 10 months, she has turned that horror into good. Natasha has worked with advocate groups to help other victims and has brought awareness to sex trafficking by speaking out about it at several law enforcement conferences. Now after eight years, Natasha has finally overcome what happened to her. But for many others, they will never be able to say the same.

Sex trafficking can happen anywhere, even in your own neighborhood. Before this past summer I never imagined I would ever come close to seeing a case of human trafficking with my own two eyes. But then a story broke about a man who was accused of raping a 15-year-old girl in the same town where I had my internship. The rape turned into a case of sex trafficking. Watch my story below to see what happened to this girl:

To read more about what sex trafficking is and how authorities are combating it, click on the links below:

Legal Points To Remember About Human Trafficking – St. Louis Today

Arresting Youth In Sex Trafficking Raises Debate – NPR

Sex Slaves For Sale On Craigslist – The Providence

Office To Monitor And Combat Trafficking In Persons – US Department Of State

‘Women For Sale’ Store Highlights Sex Trafficking in Israel – CNN


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