People With Disabilities Are More Easily Exploited by Human Traffickers
Globally, approximately one billion people are living with some form of disability, ranging from physical to cognitive and emotional disabilities. These individuals fight daily against perceptions and stigmas that prevent them from receiving the same rights and protections that those without disabilities enjoy. They strive daily to live more inclusive and independent lives. However, their disabilities make them highly vulnerable targets to the egregious act of human trafficking.
The prevalence of disabled trafficking victims is often not recognized, making things more difficult for the victims. Disabled people are often marginalized, and their experiences are ignored, making it more difficult for them to get help.
Sometimes, a person’s disability makes speaking up or identifying themselves more challenging. For example, a person with mental health issues like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder might find it difficult to trust anyone who comes into contact with them during their daily routine as part of an investigation into human trafficking.
Why People With Disabilities Are Susceptible to Exploitation by Human Traffickers
Various risk factors lead traffickers to prey on individuals with disabilities, including social powerlessness, the reduced ability to know who’s safe, communication skill deficiencies, and the lack of instruction or resources to protect themselves. In addition, people with disabilities may seek friendship and a human connection because they live isolated and sheltered lives.
Individuals with disabilities may require a caregiver to meet their basic needs, making them compliant due to their dependence on their caregiver. However, the situation makes them vulnerable by normalizing an unequal power dynamic in their relationships, which could carry over into their relationship with a trafficker or abuser. Additionally, the caregiver can take advantage of this dependency and force individuals with disabilities into prostitution or labor.
Communication issues may affect the ability of some individuals with disabilities to comprehend the demands made by traffickers or to get help and report the abuse they are suffering. This population is more vulnerable, especially if they depend on their trafficker for interpretation.
Disability can be an isolating experience, and the isolation and loneliness can cause individuals with a disability to crave relationships or friendships, making them more likely to be exploited by traffickers.
The social discrimination and prejudice that individuals with disabilities face is another factor that makes them more susceptible to trafficking situations. For example, people with disabilities may be less likely to be taken seriously when they report sexual assault or abuse. They may also face challenges in accessing services to make a report in the first place.
SSI and SSDI Access
Traffickers may target people with disabilities to access their Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.
Lack of Visibility Can Lead to a Lack of Attention
Disabled victims are less likely to be identified by law enforcement or the media because their experience is often minimized or dismissed. People with non-physical disabilities, like intellectual disabilities and mental illness — disabilities that may not seem evident at first glance — often encounter this situation.
Disabled victims are also less likely to be recognized as trafficking victims in the first place. Research has found that people with disabilities are more vulnerable than others because they may:
- Have difficulty recognizing some types of exploitation (e.g., they might not recognize coercion if they’re unaware that sex work isn’t illegal)
- Be unable to flee from exploitative situations due to physical limitations such as mobility issues, making them more dependent on caregivers who could turn out to be traffickers
- Seek help from those who remind them of caregivers back home rather than law enforcement officers
Everyone Can Help Protect People With Disabilities From Traffickers
Traffickers target the most vulnerable populations, which is why they often prey on people with disabilities. In doing so, they take advantage of the situation and manipulate these individuals into believing lies about themselves — that they’re undeserving of kindness and respect because of their disability.
Disabled people are not just vulnerable — they are also resilient and resourceful. They have the right to live their lives with dignity. They want to be accepted and respected for who they are and the contributions they can make, but unfortunately, many people do not see it that way.
Help Us Save Lives
Every donation can change the life of someone victimized by human trafficking. No matter how small, every effort can deliver help and hope to the most vulnerable among us. The generosity of our supporters has helped us provide a safe life for young people once trapped in a life of human slavery and provide shelter, food, and medical care for those in need. Together, we can change and save lives!