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The utilisation of trauma-related psychological information in the work against human trafficking has advanced

I am a trauma psychologist, work advisor and educator. Over the course of my career, I have occasionally participated in cases that were related to human trafficking. I have witnessed these cases in my clinical work in the low-threshold services of the association, in student health services and in my capacity a private psychotherapist, as well as a work advisor in several different work communities. I have helped research the difficulties that memory and trauma can present for the processes used by the authorities – for example, I have studied the effects that serious trauma can have on an individual’s ability to operate in the legal system. This work has resulted in several lectures and training sessions on the theme for professionals in various fields, such as the police, the judicial system and the border guard, as well as social welfare and health care experts.

It is vital to include information on psychological trauma in the work against human trafficking. The field of trauma psychology can provide vital information to help understand how victims act in a human trafficking context. Serious trauma can affect various areas, such as a person’s memory, perceptive process and emotional life, which can make the victim behave in irregular and, from the perspective of official processes, even difficult ways at times. Information related to trauma and memory psychology provide the key for advancing the work done with victims and can also help interpret many issues, such as a person’s inability to recall certain events or the inconsistencies in their stories. Trauma psychology provides the tools for alleviating the risk that a victim could be re-traumatised by the legal process and any service systems, and it can also help prevent any vicarious traumatisation in employees.

Psychotherapy helps seriously traumatised victims recover from their experiences. Criminal justice proceedings are often long and very mentally demanding. Various factors, such as long processing times and the uncertainty of the final outcome, can require a great deal of clarification and resilience. With enough robust and long-term support, victims can remain functional throughout the investigative and legal process. Helping someone is a demanding task. My experience has been that in the work of a psychotherapist, open, agreed-upon and well-planned communication channels with the victim’s network, which includes e.g. their legal counsel, organisations, social work authorities and psychiatric services, play a key role in this endeavour. The main point is to focus on the client and their needs, not the legal process. Once a person’s sense of security and self-worth have been destroyed, they will need versatile and long-lasting support to be able to pull themselves together both mentally and concretely in their everyday lives. 

In the long term, the person can recover from their experiences. This will help them understand that their previous experience of being a victim will no longer define their sense of self, that their decimated sense of security and self-worth can be rebuilt, and they will be able to discover their potential again. Whenever a victim is able to extricate themselves from a human trafficking scenario both in a concrete and mental sense, it should always be considered a success story.  This process requires a tremendous amount of psychological work, and it is a process where psychotherapy can be of significant use.