While there is no consensus on the number of minor domestic sex trafficking victims in the United States, there is clear consensus that the impact of this crime on the victims is devastating. Girls who have been domestically trafficked experience physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual repercussions from the trauma of sexual exploitation. Providers reported that victims often present with the following health-related issues:
- Physical health problems associated with beatings and rapes, including broken bones and the need for wound care;
- Reproductive health problems, including exposure to HIV and other STDs, pregnancies, and fertility issues;
- Mental health problems, including PTSD and somatic complaints (headaches, chronic pain) resulting from the trauma, and others listed below; and
- Alcohol and other drug use, as well as addiction.
As described by several of the service providers during the course of the study, mental health symptoms resulting from repeated abuse include:
- Extreme anxiety and fear;
- Changed relationships with others (including the inability to trust);
- Self-destructive behaviors (including suicide attempts);
- Changed feelings or beliefs about oneself (including profound shame and guilt);
- Changed perception of the perpetrator (including establishing a traumatic bond); and
- Despair and hopelessness.
The themes of trauma, abandonment, and disruption are central to the narratives of minor victims of domestic sex trafficking. It was recognized that while these minors are victims of sexual abuse, domestically trafficked girls have experienced a different level of abuse and trauma. As described by one provider, Their level of trauma is much greater and their level of damage, severe. These girls are in need of a new identity separate from The Life. They also need to develop healthy attachments with peers, adults, and family members (whenever possible). Perhaps most important, these girls need to feel safe, both physically and emotionally.