A Study: Mental Disorder in Women Survivors of Human Trafficking

By Sharon E. Chin


A study from BioMed Central Psychiatry was conducted in response to reports of women survivors of human trafficking suffering from symptoms of mental disorders. The purpose of the study was to describe the risk factors for diagnosed mental disorder among women survivors, which had not been researched in the past. Survivors used for the study were Moldova residents who experienced human trafficking as defined by the United Nations. Interviews were conducted to inquire about victims’ past experience with domestic abuse, trafficking, post-trafficking psychiatric condition, and their perceived social stressors.

From the 120 women who were interviewed, commonly shared characteristics included:

  • One quarter of the women completed secondary education or greater.
  • The top three reported unmet needs were: difficulties with daily activities, accommodation, employment and lack of money.
  • More than half of the women were unemployed prior to their trafficking.
  • Almost 80% reported childhood abuse.
  • Half of the sample were diagnosed with mental disorder like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depressive, or other anxiety disorder.

Ultimately, childhood sexual abuse, length of exposure to trafficking, and post-trafficking social stressors were independent predictors of victims developing mental disorders. Post-trauma factors such as social support and life stressors (socio-economic conditions, family interactions, social support, etc.) were unexpectedly significant for the recovery from trauma.

For the women survivors of trafficking in this study, the high rate of adverse experiences in childhood, the low level of education beyond the age of 14, the trauma as part of trafficking, and the high level of ongoing environmental stressors, would all influence onset and persistence of depression. – Abas et al.

As awareness, advocacy, policy, research and education is conducted on human trafficking, discovering best practices in victim recovery is becoming a necessity. From this study, it is clear that mental disorder assessments are not only necessary after exposure to trafficking, but in follow up care, similar to PTSD and depressions treatment.

Cancer InCytes magazine has published articles about the link between mental trauma and disease.

Trauma & Chronic Disease:




Trafficking as a Public Health Problem




Sharon E. Chin is an MPH candidate at Rutgers University and is Social Media Editor for Cancer InCytes magazine. Her interests are exploring social justice issues through public health lenses.


  • Abas, M.; et al. (2013). Risk factor for mental disorders in women survivors of human trafficking: a historical cohort study. BMC Psychiatry 13:204

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