• Athena Ives

Sex Trafficked Survivors

Resilience and the impact culture has on it

Resilience is defined as “a dynamic process encompassing positive adaptation within the context of significant adversity” (Luthar, Cicchetti & Becker, 2000, p. 543). Survivors of human sex trafficking may experience unwanted exposure to drugs, violence, forced sexual encounters and some other traumatic experiences. According to Gray (2012), the definition of resilience is different from one culture to another.

Carter (2012) conducted a qualitative study on why some survivors of human trafficking recover quickly with few problems while others suffer from multiple mental health issues for the rest of their lives. Their results found that relationship status, education level, socioeconomic status, and disposition were the key indicators in how they would overcome their traumatic experience.

Western views of resilience are highly studied and often used to determine the level of resilience in other cultures. Ungar (2012) discusses the ideal healthy and fully functioning individual consists of those that have a support system such as a caregiver or parent, successful future relationships, good school attendance records, compliant attitudes, healthy display of emotion, and ability to return to their previous day to day routines.

According to Gray (2012), there is a long list of issues that arise in using this Western view of resilience cross-culturally. Again, look at the definition of resilience: “a dynamic process encompassing positive adaptation within the context of significant adversity” (Luthar, Cicchetti & Becker, 2000, p. 543). Do all cultures value these ideal forms of positive adaptation? Do all cultures value healthy displays of emotions, attendance at school, or a future relationship? Many cultures value control of one’s emotions and the ability to remain unemotional during trying times. Some cultures value assisting their family with finances through working instead of furthering their education (Gray, 2012).

The second part of the definition involves significant adversity. How can resilience be measured when one culture is accustomed to extreme poverty and war when another culture is accustomed to prosperity and peace? Many cultures do not have the resources available to them as most Western cultures do. A young girl in Thailand is left on the street while her mother is selling her body would be relatively common but to a child from California, this would be considered a significant adversity.

Why is it important to study cultures regarding sex trafficking? As mentioned before, many cultural beliefs can make it difficult to spot victims. Many victims of sex trafficking don’t even know they are victims. They believe it is their place in life, saving up Karma, supporting their family, they’re doing it out of love… In many cultures, even if she was raped, she will never be able to marry and will be looked on in a negative light if she returns home. This may be another reason why they continue working in the sex industry even after they are freed from their captors. These survivors may face a lifetime of mental, physical and emotional health issues. Culture plays a key role in recovery and resilience and it needs to be incorporated when determining the best forms of treatment for these survivors.


Carter, T. A. (2012). Resiliency in survivors of human trafficking: An exploratory study of clinicians' perspectives of protective factors.

Gray, G. G. (2012). Resilience in Cambodia: hearing the voices of trafficking survivors and their helpers.

Luthar, S. S., Cicchetti, D., & Becker, B. (2000). The construct of resilience: A critical evaluation and guidelines for future work. Child Development, 71(3), 543-562.

Ungar, M. (2013). Resilience, trauma, context, and culture. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 14(3), 255-266.