One of the presentations at Thursday’s Sex Trafficking Community Awareness Conference at the University of Montana was the importance of understanding ‘Trauma Bonding’, from Julie Clark with the Salvation Army in Missoula.

“Trauma bonding is a relationship that develops between two people and it can be either healthy or unhealthy,” began Clark. “In the situation of human trafficking it’s an unhealthy bond. It usually comes out of a cycle of abuse and violence. It starts with a woman’s basic needs being met by a man and usually they fall in love in the human trafficking world, and once that happens the man starts manipulating her by offering false hopes and dreams, and once he knows he has her hooked, the pimp usually beats the girl or girls or guys into final submission and from there on out they know they have final control over that person.”

Clark provided a stark picture for the victim once that trauma bonding has been completed.

“Only one percent of victims are being saved and rescued and find a way out, which is just a staggering number,” she said. “Asking a victim why she didn’t leave or run away is just adding more shame to their life because she wasn’t strong enough or she failed, but meanwhile its just total control of their emotions and their basic needs. Those who don’t find a way out are never found or they’re not found alive.”

Clark related her first experience with helping a woman in the grip of trauma bonding.

“A 20 year-old woman was dropped off at my office who was picked up by a Good Samaritan as she was running for her life down Reserve Street,” Clark said. “She fled her abuser/captor at Ole’s and made it all the way down to Ruby’s Hotel before a Good Samaritan picked her up and called 9-1-1 and saved her life. With her permission I can tell you she showed me wounds where her captor had stuck keys inside her stomach or back and twisting them. He would put hand sanitizer in her eyes to blind her so she couldn’t run away. In high school she was actually trafficked by a friend’s mother in Seattle. She had so many unhealthy relationships that she had become completely numb to responding to people around her.”

Clark said the Salvation Army was able to get the victim to a safe place, and her abuser was caught, tried and put in prison.