Why Don’t Sex Trafficking Victims Run?

Why doesn’t she run away? Why doesn’t she try and escape? Why do victims of sex trafficking stay?


These are questions we are asked frequently, and it is understandable why you would question this if you do not have a full grasp of the manipulation and trauma associated with sex trafficking. While the answer to the question varies between situations these will give you an idea of the types of tactics these traffickers use to maintain control over their victims.

Traffickers use isolation and break ties with the victim’s support system.

The more the predator can create a feeling that the victim must rely on them, the better control they will have. This could look like the following:

– Taking all the victim’s money so the trafficker is relied upon for everything.

– Forcing the victim to back them up on some other illegal activity allowing them to be able to hold it over their head if they try and leave.

– Moving a victim to another city or state, creating a separation from their family and friends.

Traffickers create a sense of fear in their victims through threats if she leaves.

This tactic often has a fear of violence or harm against the victim attached to it. The victim stays to avoid whatever their trafficker is threatening. These threats may have been reinforced at some point if the victim saw one of these threats played out with another victim or has been on the receiving end of a violent act herself.

– Making it known that the victim won’t get any money or support from the trafficker is she tries to leave; she would be homeless and poor.

– Convincing the victim that she will be found wherever she tries to run too.

– Threatening to kill her or someone she loves if she tries to leave.

Traffickers will make victims of sex trafficking doubt her capability and sanity.

The more you hear something, even if it is a lie, the more you start to believe it. Traffickers bank on that and the basic physical necessities a person needs to survive and function on a normal level. This could include:

– Keeping the victim awake at night, the more sleep deprived she is the easier she is to control.

– Playing mind games and convincing her she is crazy.

– Consistently telling her she is ugly, no one would want her, or she is “just a prostitute now no one will ever love her”.

Traffickers may try to convince the victim that he deserves another chance.

Often in a Romeo Pimp situation a victim does not identify as a victim, they believe they are in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship with their trafficker. This type of abuse is very closely related to domestic abuse. This type of predator may use the following tactics to keep her around:

– Promising to change his ways.

– Blaming the abuse on stress.

– Promising to go to counseling but never following through.

Victims report being coached frequently on what to say if stopped by a police officer or questioned by a medical professional. Their trafficker will often run up their credit, purchase cars or rent apartments in their name making it harder for them to escape. Some may go as far as having a child with the victim to maintain complete control.

In the Romeo Pimp situation, the victim often feels shame or self-blame for allowing this person into their life. They feel the situation they are trapped in is a consequence of their choices. Victims in this type of situation often form a trauma bond with their exploiter and may have deep loyalties and positive feelings toward their trafficker.

In all trafficking situations complex trauma occurs that can be persistent and devastating. Trauma effects the body on every level, it removes the ability to self-regulate which then interferes with a victim’s perception and cognitive ability [source]. Trauma is experienced not only from the interactions with their pimp/trafficker but with every sexual encounter the victim experiences. It is reported that if a victim is sold online via an escort site, they will see on average 10 buyers a day [source]. The trauma associated with just one day in “the life” is hard to comprehend, let alone years.

We never recommend you approach a potential victim of trafficking due to her safety and your own, you may still find yourself speaking with someone you believe is a victim. The most important thing to remember if you find yourself in this situation is the fact that victims of sex trafficking do not feel safe. Between the trauma associated with their situation and the manipulation of their trafficker their ability to feel safe is gone. This must be addressed before anything else can be.

Why doesn’t she run away? She may not know where to go, she may not know what town she is in, he may have her child with him.

Why doesn’t she try and escape? She is probably scared to death for her life and her trauma is deeper than you can imagine.

Why do victims stay? She has been told she is worthless, and no one will want her, she fears what will happen if she tries.


Guardian Group exists to change this scenario for victims of trafficking in the U.S.

Give hope back to the victims of sex trafficking through supporting our defensive efforts. The more people trained to recognize and respond to this crime the more hope a victim can have that someone might see what is happening to them and send help.

Give freedom to victims of sex trafficking through supporting out offensive efforts. The more skilled analysts providing actionable intelligence to law enforcement across the country results in more victims offered a path to freedom.

Become a Guardian, a community of monthly donors committed to creating the necessary reliable and sustainable support required to make a lasting impact on this crime. The Guardians are vital to the work being done to combat domestic sex trafficking.


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Until All Are Free.