Why Sex-Trafficked Women Return to their Pimps

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Abraar Karan
Abraar Karan, MD MPH is a resident physician at the Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He is a member of the Hiatt Global Health Equity Residency Program. Abraar has worked in several countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa on global health and human rights projects. His current interests include health systems improvement, medical ethics, political leadership in health, and anti-corruption. Abraar graduated from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, and Yale College. t: @AbraarKaran

As a researcher in India in 2012, I began exploring a puzzling question in the sex-trafficking community: why do some women defend their pimps and return to sex work after being rescued in brothel raids? I worked at two NGOs– Prajwala in Hyderabad, and Apne Aap in New Delhi, to try and understand this strange pattern. One theory that has been circulated in this global health community is the Stockholm Syndrome. This was first noted in a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden during which the hostages who were finally rescued actually defended their kidnappers in court. It has since been described in many other situations of extreme trauma.

In our new paper published in BMC International Health and Human Rights, we look into how the Stockholm Syndrome may have an influence on sex-trafficking victims, and what this means for rehabilitation efforts and legal protection.