Psychology can be a big part of ending global sex trafficking, said psychologist Mary Crawford, PhD, of the University of Connecticut in a plenary talk about her work in Nepal to stop sex trafficking. While it’s hard to grasp the number of girls and women who are trafficked globally each year, the United Nations estimates that number to be somewhere between 700,000 and 2 million women and children, she said.
And yet there is far too little research on how sex trafficking actually happens, what interventions are most effective and what the long-term psychological impact is for victims, said Crawford. What research there is has shown that these women experience high rates of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and that survivors are often stigmatized by their families and loved ones, she said.
In Nepal, sex trafficking is a huge problem as is violence against women in general, said Crawford. Around 49 percent of Nepalese women report having experienced marital rape. “Sex trafficking is part of a larger social acceptance of violence against women there,” she said. Psychologists can help by lending their expertise to such areas as better monitoring of interventions by nongovernmental organizations that rescue and rehabilitate women who have been trafficked and also in figuring out how, and how frequently, trafficking is happening.
“We need evidence-based intervention design, but first we need evidence,” she said.
More research is also needed on what sort of public education messages are most effective in curbing trafficking. Psychologists with expertise in gender inequality, violence against women, and the psychology of men and masculinity also need to be part of the conversation and the solution, she said. “It is not a hopeless cause,” added Crawford, who shared several stories in her talk of Nepalese survivors she has met who are on the road to recovery. “The courage and resilience of trafficking survivors can inspire us to act.”