4. Effects and Consequences of Trafficking in Women

The act of trafficking and the attendant human ights violations can have very serious consequences for the victim. Women who have been trafficked may suffer from serious health problems, including physical health, reproductive health and mental health problems. Service providers who work with victims should be aware of the severe and interrelated health consequences that result from trafficking. More general information about the healthcare needs of women victims of violence can be found in the Violence and Health section.

Trafficking victims often suffer from serious physical abuse and physical exhaustion, as well as starvation. Typical injuries can include broken bones, concussion, bruising or burns, as well as other injuries consistent with assault. Some of these serious injuries can cause lasting health problems and may require long-term treatment. Because women who have been trafficked have been subjected to multiple abuses over an extensive period of time, they may suffer these health consequences in a manner consistent with victims of prolonged torture.

Sexual assault is a traumatic event with physical and emotional effects on the victim. Sexual assault is any sexual activity between two or more people in which one of the people is involved against his or her will. The sexual activity involved in an assault can include many different experiences. Women can be the victims of unwanted touching, grabbing, oral sex, anal sex, sexual penetration with an object, and/or sexual intercourse. Trafficking victims are often made to participate in sexual activities through physical or non-physical force, which can consist of pressure from someone with authority over them, bribery or manipulation or impairment from alcohol or drugs. After experiencing sexual assault, a woman may experience a range of physical consequences and emotional reactions, including severe stress and depression. More information on reactions women have to sexual assault and therapeutic techniques that may be helpful to them can be found under Sexual Assault.

Women who work in the commercial sex trade are vulnerable to sexual and reproductive health complications, including sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and other gynecological problems. Women who have been trafficked into the sex trade may often not have access to, or are not allowed to use, condoms or other methods of birth control, and may only have irregular gynecological examinations. Such women face the risk of unwanted pregnancies and miscarriages. Women who work as prostitutes experience high rates of abortion, sterilization and infertility.

This type of physical and sexual abuse described above leads to severe mental or emotional health consequences, including feelings of severe guilt, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, substance abuse (alcohol or narcotics) and eating disorders. In extreme cases, the mental anguish can lead to self-mutilation and/or suicide. Victims of trafficking often need psychological care as part of standard medical treatment.

A Kvinnoforum resource book, Crossing Borders Against Trafficking in Women and Girls (1999), contains a list of the common reactions women have after being trafficked as well as a description of the general psychological support needed by victims. The list was complied by Nadejda Kostadinova, a psychotherapist with the Animus Association, a Bulgarian NGO. Ms. Kostadinova also advises "Women need sessions with a therapist in order to share their problems in a secure environment. . . . The role of the consultant is to listen to the woman and to direct the session. She/he encourages the woman to step firm on the ground, to remember her capabilities and to recognize the strength, which helped her to survive."

Women who are victims of trafficking may also face legal consequences. Frequently, when victims of trafficking come to the attention of local authorities, they are charged with violations of local law. The consequence of the illegal acts is often deportation, being sent back to the country of origin, which has a long-term legal effect on the woman's ability to travel again to a particular country. Many countries in Europe are making temporary visas available to the trafficking victims, if they are willing to testify against the traffickers. Even if they are willing to testify, the women are often sent back after the trial has ended. Some countries, however, are creating procedures and regulations that would allow women to apply for permanent residency through their status as trafficking victims.

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