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How Addiction Increases the Risk of Human Trafficking


If you have experienced human trafficking and are struggling with addiction,  you are not alone. Addiction and human trafficking are closely linked, and addiction often continues after a person has been recruited by a trafficker. Other factors that heighten the risk for trafficking include mental illness, homelessness, history of childhood sexual abuse, and identifying as LGBTQIA+. Addressing these risk factors early can prevent trafficking altogether in many cases, but the relationship between addiction and human trafficking is more complicated. Addiction remains a risk factor at every stage of exploitation.

How are addiction and human trafficking linked?

As a survivor of human trafficking with an addiction, you can ask yourself:

1) Was my addiction present before the trafficking?

Traffickers often target those who are already chemically dependent. When a person is using, their guard may be down and their ability to sense danger may be diminished.

2) Did I start using while being trafficked?

This is also a common tactic employed by traffickers. Traffickers know that addiction can be an effective tool for control. Traffickers can gain trust with individuals experiencing addiction by controlling steady access of the substance to the victim. Then, they can attach conditions to receiving the drug, such as hours worked or commercial sex. The drive to avoid withdrawals and feed the addiction will motivate an individual to work for the drug, rendering the trafficker completely in control of the victim. Traffickers may intentionally cause addiction by forcing the use of drugs or alcohol for continued control, and as a way to incapacitate resistant victims.

3) Did I start using once I was safely out of the trafficking situation?

Drugs and alcohol have long been used as coping mechanisms following trauma. Once an individual exits the trafficking situation, they are left to deal with many common trauma reactions including flashbacks and intrusive memories. Finding a way to clear the brain of these extremely painful memories becomes more and more enticing as it remains difficult to integrate back into “normal” life.

Traffickers are good at identifying susceptible individuals, and using techniques to build trust quickly. Many unsuspecting people could be caught off guard by the charm of traffickers. They often build trust by giving money, gifts, or attention to the targeted individual. These actions result in confusion between feelings of trust and admiration for a trafficker who likely maintains control through force and violence. Through the cycle of abuse, we are able to understand how affection and fear for a trafficker are not mutually exclusive and why it is so difficult to leave.

Negative impact of addiction

We know there is a general negative impact of drug and alcohol use that can have a direct impact on a person’s health. It can also indirectly affect a person’s health if he or she prioritizes the substance and neglects other needs, such as proper nutrition and medical services. Addiction can also cause problems with interpersonal relationships, employment, and general functioning. For example, a person actively using while caring for a child could be putting that child at risk, which could lead to interactions with child protection and law enforcement.

If any of these situations sound familiar to you, you may need civil legal assistance through the PROTECT Project. PROTECT assists those who have been exploited through human trafficking. PROTECT completes comprehensive assessments of civil legal issues as well as social service issues in order to meet all the client’s needs. Clearing your criminal record through vacature or expungement could be explored with your PROTECT attorney, among other legal remedies.

How to get help

If you are still struggling with addiction, it may be time to get help. After long-term substance use, you may need detoxification (detox) as the first step. Some people may need to detox under the supervision of medical professionals. After detox, people often transition into a rehabilitation program where they can address the psychological and emotional impact of addiction. This type of setting provides a safe place for a survivor of human trafficking to begin to process their trauma, and learn how to replace drugs or alcohol with healthy coping mechanisms.

Manipulation and control are aspects of both trafficking and addiction, and they are amplified when experienced at the same time. However, there are services that can help. For help with addiction, call: 1-844-276-2777 to speak with a representative at the IME Addictions Access Center. They are available 24/7, and shared information is confidential.

For help with civil legal isues, call 1-844-LSNJ-PROTECT (1-844-576-5776).

For assistance with reporting human trafficking, or case management while you recover, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888 or text BEFREE (233733).

Recovery from addiction or human trafficking alone is very challenging. However, the strength it took for you to make it out of those other situations shows your capacity for survival. ​