Modern Day Slavery: Identifying Risk and Protective Factors for PTSD Symptoms in Individuals at Risk for Human Trafficking



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The United States (U.S.) is one of the top 10 destinations for human trafficking, with tens of thousands of individuals being trafficked into the nation (Hepburn & Simon, 2010). Human trafficking is a highly profitable, organized crime industry in which perpetrators inflict significant mental and emotional abuse, as well as physical and sexual violence on their victims (Busch-Armendariz et al., 2014; Hepburn & Simon, 2010). As a result, trafficking victims may experience adverse mental health outcomes including depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS; Hopper & Gonzalez, 2018, Hossain et al., 2010; Ottisova et al., 2016). Against this backdrop, and using the risk-protective model as a guide (Cardoso & Thompson, 2010; Fergus & Zimmerman, 2005), the present study examined risk and protective factors for PTSS in a sample of individuals at risk of human trafficking victims. Factors such as discrimination, poor social support, and familism may influence the risk of PTSS in trafficked populations. Therefore, discrimination was examined as a potential risk factor, while familism (i.e., a cultural value emphasizing the family over the self) and social support were examined as potential protective factors and moderators in the relationship between discrimination and PTSS in a moderated-moderation analysis. Participants were recruited online from shelters, hospitals, and anti-human trafficking organizations, and were eligible for the study if they were adults, lived in the U.S., and were either 1) Made or forced to work against their will, or 2) Made or forced to perform sex acts against their will. All participants (n = 73; 83.6% female) were adults (18 to 61 years old; M = 35.32; SD = 10.18) and indicated either a history of trafficking or being at risk of being trafficked. Overall, results indicated that discrimination was associated with PTSS; however, neither familism nor perceived social support emerged as moderators in the relationship between discrimination and PTSS. Findings, limitations, and strengths of the study, as well as policy and clinical implications, are discussed. To our knowledge, the present study is the first to examine the relationship between discrimination, familism, perceived social support, and PTSS in a U.S. adult sample of individuals at risk of being trafficked.



Psychology, Clinical; Human Trafficking; PTSD