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  • Writer's pictureElijah Ugoh

How Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) Impacts Families

How Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) Impacts Families
How Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) Impacts Families

The thought of your child being a victim of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) is enough to traumatize you as a parent. Sadly, this is a horrific reality for countless families. The impact of DMST goes far beyond the survivor. Parents grieve the loss of their children's childhood and the carefree existence they should have had. 

While there's a lot of focus on helping survivors recover, the impact on families shouldn't be overlooked. This article takes a closer look at the many ways DMST affects families.

Emotional Trauma Associated with Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking

Parents may feel a range of intense emotions, including guilt and anger. They may grapple with constant fear for their child's safety and a sense of helplessness in protecting them. They might also struggle with feelings of betrayal, especially if the exploitation involved someone they knew.

Anger at the traffickers is natural, but families may also experience anger directed at themselves, the authorities, or even the survivors. They might struggle with self-blame for not noticing signs or preventing the situation.

Psychological Stress

The trauma of DMST can lead to long-term psychological effects on both the survivors and their families. Secondary traumatic stress is common among family members who are closely involved in the survivor’s recovery process. Here's an analogy: 

Going through such trauma is comparable to a fire accident. The survivor is the person who was directly in the flames. Family members closely involved in recovery are like firefighters helping the survivor. This could involve attending therapy sessions, helping with daily tasks, or offering emotional support. While they aren't directly burned, the constant exposure to the heat and smoke of the trauma can take a toll on their well-being.

Financial Strain

The emotional toll can be compounded by financial strain. The costs associated with recovery, such as therapy and legal fees, can be substantial and place a significant financial strain on the family. In addition to medical and legal expenses, families may face loss of income due to missed work or job loss as they prioritize their efforts to support and protect their trafficked loved one. Economic instability further compounds the stress and challenges faced by these families.

Social Stigma

Sex trafficking is often shrouded in secrecy due to the social stigma associated with it. Families may feel immense shame, fearing judgment and social isolation if they speak openly about their child's ordeal. This silence can prevent them from seeking help and support.

Fearing judgment, gossip, or social exclusion, families might withdraw from social circles. This isolation can deprive them of much-needed support from friends, extended family, and the community at large.

Altered Family Dynamics

The experience can shatter trust within the family unit. Parents may feel betrayed by the people who were supposed to be keeping their children safe. Confusion about how this could happen and the manipulative tactics used by traffickers can be overwhelming.

The experience can change family relationships, sometimes causing tension and conflict.

It may also shift family roles, with some members taking on more responsibilities. Parents may need to take on new roles, such as managing therapy appointments, advocating for their child's rights, or even providing emotional support to siblings who are also affected.

Legal Battles

Legal battles can be expensive. Court fees, lawyer costs, and lost wages due to court appearances can create a significant financial burden on families. Not to mention how emotionally exhausting these court cases can get.

Court proceedings can drag on for months or even years. Families might have to relive painful details through witness statements, court appearances, and potential appeals. It's an emotionally-draining process that can leave every family member emotionally drained. 

Safety Concerns

There may be ongoing safety threats from traffickers or those involved in the abuse. This can leave parents constantly worried about their child's safety and even their own. Depending on the severity of the threats or the survivor's vulnerability, relocating to a new location might be necessary to ensure everyone’s safety. This can be a major disruption for the family, requiring major adjustments to their entire life.


Families need to have access to support and resources that address these challenges and help them heal after such traumatic experiences. The Mission Haven stands with survivors of DMST as well as other forms of child sex trafficking and their families to provide them with a safe space, essential resources, and unwavering support. We can't erase the trauma, but together we can empower healing.


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