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  • Elijah Ugoh

How to Reduce the Risk of Revictimization for Survivors of DMST

No one really understands the trauma of sexual abuse and trafficking more than those who have gone through it. It might take years for survivors to fully process their feelings, work through their bad experiences, and rebuild their lives. Sadly, while in this healing process, survivors of domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) may face yet another risk of being victimized a second time.

Studies show that 69-90% of people who have been victims of DMST in the past are likely to experience revictimization. What is revictimization? What can survivors of DMST do to reduce the risk of being revictimized?

What is Revictimization?

Revictimization happens when someone is victimized again after a traumatic event. For survivors of DMST, this might mean facing more exploitation by traffickers, getting retraumatized in relationships, or being vulnerable to other forms of abuse. Factors like trauma bonds, not having support networks, and facing societal stigma make DMST survivors even more likely to be revictimized, making their healing journey even harder.

Why Revictimization Occurs

Revictimization can occur for various reasons.

1. Trauma Bonds

Trauma bonds, also known as Stockholm syndrome or traumatic bonding, refer to strong emotional connections that form between a victim and their abuser as a result of prolonged exposure to abuse, manipulation, and control.

These bonds are often characterized by feelings of loyalty, affection, and dependency towards the abuser, despite the harmful nature of the relationship. Trauma bonds can make it difficult for victims to leave or seek help, as they may feel emotionally attached to their abuser and believe that they need them for survival.

2. Socio-Economic Vulnerabilities

Socio-economic vulnerabilities are a major risk factor for the sex trafficking of minors. These factors include poverty, unstable housing, and limited education or job options that make people more likely to be exploited or victimized again. Traffickers often target those in desperate situations, offering help in exchange for labor or sex. These vulnerabilities can keep survivors trapped in cycles of abuse, making it hard for them to escape or rebuild their lives.

3. Psychological Factors

One key psychological factor is the development of maladaptive coping mechanisms in response to trauma. Survivors of abuse may adopt coping strategies such as dissociation, avoidance, or self-blame as a means of managing overwhelming emotions and distressing memories.

While these coping mechanisms may have initially helped the survivor cope with trauma, they can also contribute to patterns of behavior that inadvertently increase their risk of revictimization. For example, a survivor may use dissociation as a way to numb themselves from painful memories, but this may also make them more susceptible to being exploited by traffickers who may exploit their vulnerability.

4. Normalization of Abuse

After experiencing prolonged abuse, survivors may come to view it as normal or inevitable, making it harder for them to recognize and escape from situations where they are being victimized again. This can happen gradually as they adapt to their situation and internalize harmful beliefs about themselves. 

For example, such victims might justify their partner's controlling behavior as a sign of love. This mindset can lower one’s self-esteem and make it harder for the individual to recognize when they're being mistreated.

5. Lack of Support Networks

Many survivors lack supportive relationships or access to resources that can help them navigate their recovery journey. Without a strong support system, DMST survivors may be more vulnerable to being victimized again. When they lack supportive friends or community support resources, they have fewer options to get help when things get tough. This makes them more likely to be taken advantage of or hurt again.

How You Can Reduce the Risk

Here are some ways to help DMST survivors avoid revictimization, or at least reduce the risk:

1. Educate Yourself about DMST

One of the most potent weapons against revictimization is knowledge. When survivors understand the tactics of traffickers, the dynamics of abuse, and their own rights, they can recognize danger and protect themselves. This knowledge empowers them to assert their autonomy, seek help, and avoid manipulation.

Education and awareness also help fight the stigma and misunderstandings about DMST. When we raise awareness about the prevalence and devastating impact of DMST, we encourage empathy, understanding, and support for survivors.

2. Build supportive networks

Survivors already struggle with the stigmas associated with DMST, and, as a result, may isolate themselves. So, it’s important to show them support and reduce their risk of getting victimized by providing them with the encouragement and guidance they need to move on. 

When a loved one confides in you about a traumatic experience, it's important to listen without judgment and refrain from blaming or shaming them. Showing empathy and providing a safe space for them to express their feelings can make a significant difference in their healing journey. 

3. Access to Specialized Services

Specialized services, such as trauma-informed therapy, counseling, housing assistance, legal aid, and other essential services, help survivors avoid being revictimized by addressing the underlying factors that make them vulnerable to exploitation. Therapy and counseling help survivors heal from trauma and develop coping skills.

Survivors can also benefit from legal protection measures like restraining orders, legal representation, or advocacy services to ensure their safety and rights are upheld. They can engage in life skills training that will equip them with practical skills for independent living and reduce their reliance on exploitative situations.

4. Set boundaries

After being exploited and abused, survivors often feel like they've lost control. Setting boundaries helps them feel in charge of their own lives again. It’s important they learn to assert their rights and say no to situations or people that make them feel uncomfortable.

Defining their limits and preferences allows survivors to more easily recognize situations or individuals that may be harmful or exploitative. This heightened awareness enables them to avoid or exit potentially dangerous situations before they escalate into instances of revictimization.

Help is Available 24/7

Reducing the risk of being victimized takes time and courage, but you're not alone. The Mission Haven supports survivors like you who have been through traumatic experiences, including sexual abuse. 

We provide a safe space to share stories, get support, learn life skills, and connect with others who understand. Take the first step towards healing by reaching out to us today. Know someone who is at risk? Here’s how to quickly get help for them


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