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Projected heroes and self-perceived manipulators: understanding the duplicitous identities of human traffickers

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Abstract

This qualitative inquiry examines human trafficker identities through stories from convicted offenders. Thematic findings suggest that the projected-identity of sex traffickers may be different from their true self-identity. Identity regulation to produce the appropriate individual by situation facilitates both improvisational and patterned methods of victim recruitment. Sex traffickers exercise their coercive power predominately through the use of deception and fraud, projecting themselves as “honest heroes” and “lovers” of their victims. Rather than using force to perpetually repress victims, sex traffickers more frequently gain compliance by building a trauma bond with their victims, who are also typically found at the margins of society. Recruitment into a commercial sexually exploitive victimization involves the perceived fulfillment of physiological and emotional needs, as well as strategic infusion of counterculture virtues. For tenured sex traffickers, force is normally only intermittently exercised to punish recalcitrant victims in a way that maintains the longevity of control through trauma bonding.
Projected heroes and self-perceived manipulators:
understanding the duplicitous identities
of human traffickers
Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco
1
#Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2017
Abstract This qualitative inquiry examines human trafficker identities through stories
from convicted offenders. Thematic findings suggest that the projected-identity of sex
traffickers may be different from their true self-identity. Identity regulation to produce
the appropriate individual by situation facilitates both improvisational and patterned
methods of victim recruitment. Sex traffickers exercise their coercive power predom-
inately through the use of deception and fraud, projecting themselves as Bhonest
heroes^and Blovers^of their victims. Rather than using force to perpetually repress
victims, sex traffickers more frequently gain compliance by building a trauma bond
with their victims, who are also typically found at the margins of society. Recruitment
into a commercial sexually exploitive victimization involves the perceived fulfillment
of physiological and emotional needs, as well as strategic infusion of counterculture
virtues. For tenured sex traffickers, force is normally only intermittently exercised to
punish recalcitrant victims in a way that maintains the longevity of control through
trauma bonding.
Keywords Sex trafficking .Human trafficking .Commercial sexual exploitation of
children .CSEC .Pimp .Prostitute .Trafficking in persons .TVPA .Trafficking victims
protection act .CSAAS .Child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome .RTS .Rape
trauma syndrome .Trauma bonding
Following the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000,
lobbyists, practitioners, academics, legislators, and law enforcement agencies have all
clamored to evaluate and address human trafficking crimes in the United States. The
TVPA delineates two severe forms of trafficking in persons: sex trafficking and labor
https://doi.org/10.1007/s12117-017-9325-4
*Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco
Kim@MehlmanOrozco.com; http://www.mehlmanorozco.com
1
Mahn, Mehlman & Associates, LLC, https://mahnmehlman.com
Trends Organ Crim (2020) 23:95114
Published online: 6 December 2017
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... As historically reported (Chrysler 1909;Flexner, 1919;Mackirdy & Willis, 1912), the phenomenon of human trafficking-"the white slave trade" as was initially coinedhas surfaced well over a decade ago. And, while the focus of attention has ever since (and disproportionately), been on the victims of human trafficking, there has been, in the recent past, an increasing interest on the perpetrators and facilitators of trafficking (Asbill 2017;Akee et al. 2014;Aronowitz 2009;Brunovskis and Surtees 2015;Brown 2011;Denton 2016;Gotch 2016;Jones 2014;Mehlman-Orozco 2017;Siere et al., 2018;Shively et al. 2017;Nikolic-Ristanovic 2012). However, extant accounts and studies to this effect are yet to connect all the pieces of the puzzle. ...
... Be it as it may, this study is mostly based on data collected from interviews with victims of trafficking, as directly interviewing traffickers (Keo et al. 2014;Mehlman-Orozco 2017;Shively et al. 2017;Troshynski and Blank 2008) was not a viable research method, since none of them ever admitted to being a trafficker. 15 Specifically, data were collected from directed content analysis (Hsieh and Shannon 2005) of the scripts of 102 interviews 16 with victims of sex trafficking that took place between 2009 and 2014. ...
... In the most part, the study's findings are aligned with other research outcomes, without of course disregarding particular deviations which somewhat differentiate the case of Cyprus from other offshore contexts. For instance, coercion and force (Mehlman-Orozco 2017;Sarkar 2017), much less abductions during the recruitment phase (Kara 2009) were never reported to have occurred in Cyprus. Also, recruitment resulting from marriage , intimate relationships-commonly known as 'lover boy' (Coster van Voorhout 2009) or 'romantic' situations (Reid 2016)-or victims' relatives inducements to accept offers to work abroad (Aghatise 2004;Skilbrei and Tveit 2008), had a very low incidence rate. ...
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While the preponderance of delineation, exploration, and analysis of human trafficking concentrates on the victimization of trafficked people, the offenders’ criminal partaking is often left unexplored. That said, this study aims to examine the conundrum of human trafficking by exploring the traffickers’ demographics, tactics, connections, and collaborations. In order to accomplish this, data are drawn from the content analysis of 102 police interviews (Cyprus Police) with victims of trafficking and the study of police files of 18 persons convicted for human trafficking and sexual exploitation. In short (and contrary to widely held beliefs), the findings point out that human trafficking in Cyprus is not premised on well-established criminal syndicates with deep roots and solid networking, nor is dominated by cruel tactics actuated by meticulous crooks, linked to corrupt officials.
... The police and court files provided a comprehensive set of information about the sex traffickers, from the vantage point of individuals involved in the trafficking. As traffickers have proven to be an unreliable source of information (Shively et al., 2017;Copley, 2013;Van San and Bovenkerk, 2013;Mehlman-Orozco, 2020), this study utilized multiple data sources which provided different perspectives on the position of the trafficker (i.e. from data carriers, victims, police officers, judges and forensic psychologists). By using these multiple sources of information and reports, an in-depth understanding could be made of sex traffickers (Cresswell, 2007). ...
... A second limitation is that the reliability of some data sources (especially the statements of the traffickers, but also those of the victims) could be contradictory. Traffickers for example often deny their involvement (Shively et al. 2017;Copley, 2013;Van San and Bovenkerk, 2013;Van Dijke et al., 2015;Mehlman-Orozco, 2020), possibly as a strategy to prevent prosecution or reduce their sentence. Of victims, it is known that trauma can reduce the reliability of their memories and thus their statements (Klerx-van Mierlo, et al. 2014). ...
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A trauma bond is an emotional attachment between an abuser and victim. Trauma bonds in sex trafficking compel victims to submit to continued exploitation and protect the trafficker. This scoping review examines trauma bonds in sex trafficking situations, its conceptualizations, and key characteristics. Ten databases were searched using sex trafficking AND trauma bonding–related terms; sex trafficking AND Stockholm syndrome, attachment, coercion, and manipulation. Articles were included if they featured trauma bonding, were published in English after 2013, or featured sex trafficking victims or traffickers in a Western country. Fifteen articles were included. The features of trauma bonding identified in these articles were (1) imbalance of power that favors trafficker, (2) traffickers’ deliberate use of positive and negative interactions, (3) victim’s gratitude for positive interactions and self-blame for the negative, and (4) victim’s internalization of perpetrator’s view. We also identified four aspects related to trauma bonding: (1) prior trauma made victims vulnerable, (2) victim’s feelings of love remained even after exiting trafficking, (3) love is why victims do not prosecute traffickers, and (4) traffickers’ intentional cultivation of the trauma bond. No article indicated how trauma bonds could be severed and replaced with healthy attachments. These findings reveal the need for practitioners and law enforcement and criminal justice professionals to address trauma bonding in both trafficking and posttrafficking situations. The findings also represent potential targets for urgently needed interventions that promote the replacement of trauma bonds with healthy attachments.
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