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Human Trafficking – Society’s dark underbelly hidden in plain sight

In my profession, I’ve met people coming from all walks of life. Among these, I’ve also had the opportunity to work with both survivors and perpetrators who were involved in human trafficking. I can assure you that these are terrifying criminal organizations. I have come to the conclusion that this kind of crime is incredibly well-organized. It is not so easy to detect where traffickers might be operating their shady business, as there is plenty of expert manipulation taking place behind the curtain.

While the best-known form of human trafficking is for the purpose of sexual exploitation, hundreds of thousands of victims from around the world are being trafficked into forced labour, domestic servitude, removal of organs and so forth. There are many different forms of human trafficking, which means that there is no single and typical victim profile.

Films or TV series that portray the dark and lurid world of human trafficking are often perceived as sensationalistic in order to create shock and suspense among the audience, whose eyeballs are fixed on the screen. The captives are almost always depicted as vulnerable, young women held captive into underground sex-trafficking rings. Either lured away or kidnapped from their home countries, they are then forced into a constant, docile state of drug highs and coerced into an inescapable loop of prostitution and misery.

However, both women and men, as well as children of all ages, can be trafficked for sex and labour. Those at risk of being trafficked most often come from vulnerable populations, including undocumented migrants, runaways, and at-risk youths and adults. Such individuals are targeted by traffickers because they have few resources and work options, thus they are easy prey. These situations and conditions make victims easier to control and manipulate.

In my experience with both perpetrators and survivors, pimps and sex traffickers manipulate victims and are known to make use of a combination of violence and affection to cultivate loyalty. This psychological manipulation reduces the victim’s likelihood of acting out against them.

As members of our community, we can play a part in trying to stop this injustice. A good way to potentially find out whether there is human trafficking involved is to keep an eye out for these red flags. For example, victims tend not to be in possession of personal identification or travel documents. This is because the person in charge will keep everything to themself to seize control over the victim.

Victims fear authorities since the trafficker would threaten them that if they would go to the authorities, they will either get tortured, killed or suffer grave consequences. Another thing is that traffickers would not allow the victim to have freedom of movement, as they are afraid of losing control over them. Survivors I have spoken to told me that they were promised either better work opportunities, modelling contracts or access to educational advancement in a foreign country. Unfortunately, these promises were nothing more than bait to lure victims into forced sex work or labour with poor working conditions.

I have had conversations with many professionals who are unfamiliar with this complex topic and they do not seem to understand the psychological effects caused by human trafficking. This is because many times. victims do not show visible signs of trauma. It is important to remember that survivors who have suffered prolonged psychological abuse become withdrawn individuals.

To conclude, if you notice anything suspicious, I encourage you to call the police on 112 or Appoġġ on 179 to make the necessary assessments of a situation.

Maria Mifsud

About Maria Mifsud

Maria graduated with a Bachelor of Psychology (Hons) in 2008, then went on to read for a Masters in Probation Services at the University of Malta. After years of being part of the Government workforce, she realised that to better understand her clients and be more equipped, she had to further her studies by enrolling in a Masters in Systemic and Family Psychotherapy with IFT-Malta. Some years later, she continued to pursue her studies in Clinical Supervision with IFT-Malta. Maria is also a qualified Victim Offender Mediator.

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1. TherapyPacks come in bundles of 5 or 10 sessions. Prices of bundles:

  • 5 sessions – €270 – must be utilised within 3 months from date of purchase
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2. Bundles are not transferable. This means they cannot be used by, or gifted to, anyone else but the person whose name is listed as the TherapyPacks bundle holder.

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