27.06.2021

How sex trafficking trauma affects the way its survivors parent

A study of young immigrant mothers who are survivors of sex trafficking found that the trauma affected how they parented: it made them overprotective parents in a world perceived to be unsafe, it fueled emotional withdrawal when struggling with stress and mental health symptoms, and was a barrier to building confidence as mothers. Yet, they coped with such challenges finding meaning in the birth of their child and through social support and faith.

The study found that many sex trafficking survivors questioned their ability to be “good mothers.” This negative self-perception was linked to participants’ experiences of disempowerment from being trafficked for sex. Most noted that their avoidant behaviors and generalized fear often led to overprotecting their young children and foregoing opportunities for socialization with other children or adults. When children are overprotected, their independence may be discouraged, hindering the development of autonomy and increasing the risk for developing anxiety and separation issues. Conversely, mothers also discussed how moments of sadness and emotional numbness lead them to feel emotionally disconnected from their children, decreasing their ability to respond to their young children’s emotional needs in moments of stress.

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