Complex Trauma in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Victims and the Dangers of Misidenfication


Karie McGuire, LCSW | September 20 | 2:45-3:45 PM

Topic: Direct Service | Knowledge Level: Intermediate, Advanced

Domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) victims face many barriers to getting appropriate trauma-informed treatment. DMST victims frequently have a history of early childhood trauma by trusted adults. Due to the complex trauma these victims experience, they become dissociated as a tool for survival. As a result of ongoing trauma, many DMST victims do not embody (intuitively display) protective skills. Helping professionals often misunderstand the presentation of trauma, misidentify dissociation as apathy or defiance, and place DMST victims into inadequate treatment. The Federal Advisory Committee of Juvenile Justice (2007) found that children who are sex trafficked are some of the most vulnerable youth; to hold these children accountable for sexual actions with adult perpetrators will only further exploit their vulnerabilities. Through experience as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker working with both adult and child victims of human trafficking at a non-profit agency in New Jersey and supported by research as a doctoral student, this presentation will share information about how DMST victims embody complex trauma and how the presentation of that trauma, or seeming lack thereof, causes them to be misidentified as criminals rather than victims. Trauma-informed care needs to be integrated from the first interaction with law enforcement, throughout the development of a treatment plan with providers, and for the duration of the therapeutic relationship. This presentation will illustrate how helping professionals can effectively advocate for DMST victims at the early stages of identification and also foster a safe, accepting therapeutic space to assist these clients in trust building and identify formation.

Presentation Objectives:

·  Inform social workers and other first responders how to distinguish dissociation and other consequences of trauma from defiance.

·  Discuss the rights of DMST victims.

·  Advocate for proper identification across systems (i.e. law enforcement, child protection, judicial system).

·  Provide options for treatment available.

·  Present new ideas for specialized trauma-informed intervention when working with this population.

About the Presenter