Why Do They Stay?
UNDERSTANDING VICTIM MINDSETS
Victims are prepared for their demise through various steps, often in seemingly positive ways initially so as to gain trust. Little by little the woman is stripped of her dignity and self-worth. Verbal abuse adds to humiliation and break down of the victim while also eroticizing the abusive man’s power (Baldwin, 1993). The harm of toxic verbal assaults against against a woman is emotionally devastating, often hurting more deeply and outlasting the pain of physical injuries. The verbal abuse in domestic violence, prostitution, and polygamy is socially invisible; it is normalized and destructive. Although we lack this statistic in polygamy, 88% of 315 prostituting women and adolescents in Canada, Colombia, and Mexico described verbal abuse as intrinsic to their daily lives (Farley et al., 2003). It is well-documented that verbal assaults are likely to cause acute and long-term psychological symptoms. One woman explained the process, describing how over time a victim breaks and eventually starts believing and accepting that she is nothing beyond what she is told she is.
“it is internally damaging. You become in your own mind what these people do and say with you. You wonder how could you let yourself do this and why do these people want to do this to you?” (Farley, 2003b, p. 267).
Hopelessness and resignation
In the face of extreme control, violence, and captivity, notions of hope may fade over time towards states of hopelessness and resignation.
Traffickers, like many polygamists, purposefully isolate victims from a positive support structure and foster controlled environments where the victim is kept in a state of complete dependency. High levels of dependency and learned helplessness often lead victims to “prefer the hell they know‟ than face the uncertainty of adapting to a new world of independence.
Traffickers use sophisticated methods of manipulating the human desire to hope through false promises and lies about a future better life. Polygamists and self-proclaimed prophets do the same thing but their false promises of a future better life extend for time and all eternity.
Traumatic bonding to the trafficker/ cult leader
In many trafficking cases, victims have exhibited commonly-known behaviors of traumatic bonding due to the violence and psychological abuse (a.k.a., Stockholm syndrome). Current examples of this may include Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart.
In the face of an extremely psychologically manipulative situation, trafficked persons may engage in self-blaming attitudes and blame themselves for being duped into a situation beyond their control. Self-blaming attitudes are often reinforced by the traffickers and can serve to impede the victim from testifying against or faulting the trafficker, prophet, or cult-leader.
Use and threat of violence
Severe physical retaliation (e.g., beatings, rapes, sexual assault, torture) combined with threats of harm or damnation in this life or the next tend to hold victims in a constant state of fear and obedience.
Fear manifests in many ways in a trafficking situation, including fear of physical retaliation, of death, of arrest, or of harm to one’s loved ones. In certain polygamist communities, this could also include loss of children, loss of families and loss of homes.
Many trafficking victims experience significant levels of psychological trauma due to the levels of abuse they have endured. In certain cases, this trauma leads to disassociation, depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which in turn affects daily functioning and levels of agency.
Low levels of self-identifying as trafficking victims
The majority of trafficking victims do not self-identify as victims of human trafficking. In the same regard, the majority of women exploited in polygamy do not self-identify as victims of polygamy either.
Normalization of exploitation
Over a long period of enduring severe levels of trauma, physical abuse, and psychological manipulation, victims demonstrate resilience strategies and defense mechanisms that normalize the abuse in their minds. In a relative mental assessment, what once may have been viewed as abuse may now be experienced as a normal part of every day life. This changing “lens” on viewing the world impacts the ability to self-identify as a victim.
A belief that no one cares to help
Trafficking and polygamy victims may believe that no one cares to help them. This belief is reinforced both by the perpetrators’ lies as well as the community when law enforcement and society do nothing to help. When the community is silent on the issue, abuser’s power is increased and feelings of hopelessness sustain.