Freedom Corner: The Victim and Stockholm Syndrome


Many times when I speak about Human Trafficking, people ask:

“Why don’t they just leave?”

If only it were that simple.

Choice is never a part of Human Trafficking. Modern-day slavery plays out in coercion, manipulation, brainwashing, and abuse. Why don’t they just leave? One part of the answer: Stockholm Syndrome can apply in these situations.


The Free describes it as:

“a group of psychological symptoms that occur in some persons in a captive or hostage situation.”

Another description:

“a form of bonding between a captive and captor in which the captive begins to identify with and my even sympathize with the captor.”

The symptoms to include: insomnia, nightmares, distrust, flashbacks, irritability, taking no joy in pleasurable activities and confusion.

When in captivity the human trafficking victim can begin to demonstrate empathy for her captors because the longer she is with the trafficker, the more dependent she becomes on them for food, water, and basic needs. The manipulation of traffickers ranges from physical and mental abuse to showing simple kindnesses, such as letting her get a manicure or calling the family to tell them they are okay (of course, under his supervision). It makes rescue very difficult because the victims that exhibit these behaviors develop distrust of law enforcement and an “us against them” mentality. Rescue may be seen as a threat to their livelihood at this point.

It is for these reasons specialized training of law enforcement personnel is key to engaging the victims.


In Stockholm, Sweden, in 1973 a bank robbery developed into a hostage situation. During the 6-day standoff with police, the four captives forged seemingly illogical relationships with the captors. Initially rumored that this was staged, the truth of this twist of relationship was later proved sincere. The captives were freed, but demonstrated all of the above symptoms. The hostages even visited the captors in jail. They shook hands and hugged the bank robbers as the police placed the captors under arrest.

According to, the term “Stockholm Syndrome” was coined by Nils Bejerot, a medical professor and psychiatric consultant to the Swedish police during the bank robbery in 1973.


Stockholm Syndrome is treated similarly to PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) with psychotherapy and medication.

Human trafficking victims, however, present greater complexities. They need the above, but will also have to have basic needs addressed such as:  housing, education, job skills, and a multi-pronged approach. Recovery and restoration could be long-term depending on the individual’s needs.

Dispelling myths about the victims is critical. Answering questions like “Why don’t they just leave?” can be difficult, but are essential in helping to understand why these issues are complex and how we can contribute to the solution to modern day slavery.

Click here to learn more about The Profile of aVictims.


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