Therapeutic Challenges of Addressing Human Trafficking Victims 

Jan 2, 2024

Woman holding a sign that reads, "It's time to talk about it."

On Jan. 11, we observe National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Human trafficking occurs worldwide and is defined as the exploitation of another person for labor, domestic servitude or commercial sexual activity by force, fraud or coercion, enslaving or exploiting unwilling people.  

In Oregon, 160 cases involving 246 victims were reported in 2021 by the national hotline for human trafficking. But the U.S. Department of Justice says human trafficking is vastly under-reported, in part because law enforcement has been unable to identify local trafficking offenses, and inadequate reporting of those incidences that were identified. 

Another difficulty is that even people who are being trafficked—especially young women being traded for sex—are being emotionally manipulated by experts who know how to play on their history of trauma and abuse. 

“Working with this population offers up complex challenges outside of the resulting diagnosis,” says Jeslyn Stamm, program director. “We are often uncovering—slowly—many underlying challenges, including dependence, mistrust and psychological manipulation.  

“Clients who may be presenting for mental health or substance use may also be trafficked, but it’s a difficult situation for a clinician to address,” Jeslyn says. 

That’s why LifeWorks NW has held training sessions for staff and clinicians. 

“We want to educate clinicians on what to keep an ear and eye out for when working with someone they suspect is or has experienced outcomes related to sex work or sex trafficking.” Jeslyn says.  

Being client-focused is a challenge in itself, because, “Many times, they do not see themselves as ‘victims’ and are not interested in necessarily exiting the life (right now) but want to learn ways to better safeguard themselves,” Jesyln says. 

“We educate them on the dangers and help to identify short- and long-term consequences, while acknowledging that there are rewards being experienced simultaneously. They are hypervigilant to our entire presentation, and this could make or break the therapeutic alliance quickly.” 

In addition to providing therapeutic services, LifeWorks NW staff can connect these clients with community agencies who can better support other needs.  

Learn more: 

Human Trafficking – Oregon Department of Justice (—list of county human trafficking task forces 

Oregon human trafficking data Oregon | National Human Trafficking Hotline 

 National Human Trafficking Resource Center » or call 1-888-373-7888

 National Center for Missing and Exploited Children » or call 1-800-THE-LOST