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HUMAN TRAFFICKING - forms of trafficking and psychological consequences


Human trafficking is the selling or buying of persons. It is the holding of a person for the purpose of exploitation, as well as all other actions which are the part of that process.

Exploitation is performed by the use of force, threats, misleading, fraud, abuse of authority and/or abuse of position, or otherwise.

The goal of trafficking is to make money (or some other benefit) through person exploitation. It could be sexual exploitation, forced working, forced begging, forcing to crimes committing, illegal adoption, forced marriage, organ trafficking, etc. Human trafficking is a crime, regulated by Article 388 of the Criminal Law of the Republic of Serbia.



Victims of trafficking are women, men and children, regardless of their origin, age, nationality, education, social status or any other characteristics. There is no victim profile that distinguishes victims of trafficking from other people. They could not be easily identified, but there are many factors that can contribute to a person which becomes a victim.

The highest percentage of victims are women and girls (about 80-90% of identified victims every year), but also, children are large part of the identified victims. Women are most often sold and bought for the purpose of sexual exploitation and forced prostitution, while the men are usually exposed to forced working, but they can also be victims of other forms of exploitation. Children are used for forced begging, sexual exploitation, forced working, forced prostitution or forced military service (eg child soldiers). There is rising number of children who become victims of human trafficking.


Anyone can be a trafficker - men and women, and very often they are people of trust, even members of the victim's family, as well as people whom the victim has known for a long period. Exploitation can also be performed by an unknown person whom the victim met while looking for a job or school in foreign country or city. Trafficker must become close with the victim and must make the victim to feel safe. The victim has confidence in abuser, believing in a world where dreams come true. The dream is created, and then destroyed in the cruelest way.

STOCKHOLM SYNDROME is hardly understand phenomenon of connecting, developing certain feelings, and even a specific form of love between the victim and the abuser. It is based on the emotional connection between hostages and their own kidnappers, which is manifested by justifying kidnappers’ actions and refusing to cooperate with the police after hostage’s release from kidnappers.

This is explained by the need of developing specific survival mechanism in conditions of endangerment. Examples of the syndrome are also present in cases of domestic violence, incest, war crimes, concentration camps or sects. Due to the feeling of helplessness, but also the need to alleviate own psychological position by emphasizing the positive sides of the abuser, the victim creates an unnatural relationship with abuser and comes into the conflict with those who provide assistance (police, professional services). There is also correlation between time spent in captivity and rapprochement.


• Sexual exploitation and forced prostitution.

• Forced working.

• Forced begging.

• Coercion to commit crimes.

• Trafficking with organs (forced removal of organs for sale).

• Forced working at home.

• Forced marriages


Poverty, unemployment and social exclusion are the main causes of human trafficking, as well as exposure to some kind of violence. In countries with high unemployment and high poverty rates, such as Serbia, people are in constant search of employment and a better life, frustrated by years of poor living conditions and the inability to provide basic needs. Marginalized and discriminated groups, which are otherwise neglected by society, are particularly vulnerable.

The most common ways of recruiting are:

• Fake business and other offers from people which victim knows and trusts,

• "Lover boy" - a young man who pretends to be in love with a girl and gains her trust, invites her to go together in foreign country or city where they will start a happier life,

• Misleading job offers in media, which are better (but not unrealistically) paid and provide better working conditions,

• Sale by family, due to poverty, but also because believe of parents that their child will have a better life somewhere else,

• Kidnapping, possible but not too common way of recruiting for human trafficking.


Abused persons are exposed to various forms of violence (psychological, physical, sexual) and torture, in order to ensure complete control over them, break their resistance and ensure obedience to the trafficker.

Captivity / isolation - means restriction of the freedom of movement of victims, every exit is carefully monitored and contact with strangers is prohibited. Contact with the family is disabled. First step is psychological hunt and the creation of a situation that no one can help victim and that there is no reason to try to escape. Victims are often transferred from one place to another in order to lose orientation where they are, as well as to make it difficult for the police to find the victims.

Threat and use of violence / initiation of fear - Traffickers use violence and / or the threat of violence as a method of control. In order to be obeyed, victims are often beaten and raped, kept in long isolation, deprived of food and water, drugged and tortured with sharp objects and with making cigarettes bur on the skin. These actions are made punish victim for any form of disobediences, but also to aware other victims about the consequences in case of disobediences. Sometimes threat of violence alone is enough to lead to the victim's obedience, and physical violence does not even have to occur. Blackmail is also used to provoke fear and obedience.

Use or threat of repression against the victim's family - one of the most effective is the threat of violent repression against the victim loved persons, closest ones, as well as the threat to herself. It allows control over the victim and it is a very effective method of securing the victim's obedience, and of preventing escape attempt. Also, murders committed to intimidate victims are not uncommon.

Debt repayment obligation - One of the primary control mechanisms is the obligation due to indebtedness, where the victim is required to repay exaggerated costs incurred due to his bringing to the other country or other costs incurred for food, clothing, make-up, etc. Victims are promised that they will be able to leave as soon as they repay that debt.

Perception of control - All of the above mentioned control mechanisms, as well as the unpredictability of the situation, lead to the victim’s perception of uncontrolled situation which make the believe that they cannot leave or cannot survive on their own, even if opportunity to escape is present. Decision not to run away is consequence of person's inability to predict the events and consequences of certain actions. The learned helplessness reaction is a consequence of both repeated exposure to traumatic events and the absence of any possibility for the victim to control the events outcome.


• physical injuries, short-term and long-term poor physical health

• psychosomatic illnesses

• post-traumatic stress reactions that can turn into post-traumatic stress disorder

• depression, anxiety and anxiety disorder

• lack of emotional reactions

• addiction

• helplessness and lack of meaning

• nightmares

• anger control problems

• suicidal ideas and suicide attempts

• paranoia

• fatalism

• problems in daily self-care

• sleep disorders

• loss of trust in people

• dissociative disorders, etc.


If victims gather enough courage and strength to escape or wait long enough to for police intervention or to be rescued, it does not mean that they will escape from the violence cycle in which they are trapped. Most of the victims return to the same situation from which they tried to escape because the social environment does not know and does not want to know what happened to them - secondary victimization. The family and institutions often reject any responsibility and additionally impose feelings of guilt and shame. The most important thing is that victims are in a safe space and environment.

The recovery process is slow and is influenced by many factors, personal (physical and mental health), positive beliefs, material situation, but also social support.

Social support is an extremely important step of recovery and trauma overcoming. Recovery in depends on the environment, family, close friends, partners, but also on the people who support victims. Awareness that the person is accepted, loved, respected, supported, that there is someone who can get help is important self-perception and helps to recover more easily and quickly.

Dr. Marija Šutulović,

Graduated Psychologist (Clinical Department)

Advisor for the prevention of domestic and peer violence to the

IPO Education and Crime Prevention Department

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