Detectives explain how traumatic bonding can complicate work with human trafficking


When a person is arrested for prostitution, detectives with the Hagerstown Police Department said it can be hard to find out whether that person is actually being trafficked by someone else.

Many times, the person being trafficked does everything they can to protect their traffickers.

“The victim looks at the offender as they can’t survive without them basically,” Detective Sgt. John Murray said.

Detectives said traffickers in the four-state typically target teens who are runaways because they are more vulnerable and have less people looking out for their best interest.

The trafficker initially comes across as charming and charismatic, showering the teen with gifts.

Once the teen starts to fall in love, detectives said the trafficker asks the teen to perform sexual favors for a friend.

Then, detectives said the trafficker isolates the teen from friends and family and starts to abuse them, which teaches them not to do them wrong.

All of this forms what detectives call, “traumatic bonding”.

“A lot of times they’re providing every necessity that the victim needs: food, shelter, clothing… When a person is providing these things and has the sole responsibility of providing these things for you, that bond starts to form,” Detective Sgt. Murray said.

Making matters worse, detectives said the person being trafficked typically puts their own contact information on dating websites instead of their trafficker.

“They will further isolate themselves by having a ‘bottom girl’ and a bottom girl is the girl within that group that’s left in charge of the other girls,” Detective Sgt. Murray said.

However, through tips, investigative work, and teaching teens to trust officers instead of their trafficker, detectives have found ways around it all.

“The victims are nothing more than a commodity to them. So that’s the way they look at it. If that girl is arrested, you go out and find another girl,” Detective Sgt. Murray said.

If you know someone who is being trafficked in Washington County, you’re asked to e-mail:

There is also a 24-hour hotline for help through the Department of Social Services in Washington County. That phone number is 240-420-2222.

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