Date of Award
Doctor of Social Work (DSW)
Allison Werner-Lin, PhD
Diane Langberg, PhD
Shea Rhodes, Esq
Human sex trafficking is an ongoing global rights violation formally recognized since 2000 through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, 2016). Using ecological and trauma-informed lenses, this qualitative, retrospective study used participant-centered methods to explore identity, sexuality, relationships, and factors that facilitate/ hindered community reintegration for 15 adult female survivors. Interview transcripts, Photovoice captioned images, and focus groups were analyzed using multi-level conceptual and thematic coding. Participants identified with all aspects of complex trauma, including: dissociation, self-perception/identity, relations with others and systems of meaning. Key themes included losing and regaining power, shame, and the dangers of re-exploitation and re-traumatization. Critical domains of posttraumatic growth included deep appreciation for life, finding personal strength, spiritual change, ability to see beauty and perceive deeply, and finding greater meaning in life experiences, particularly helping others. Participants highlighted relationship development as the primary source of healing and growth, emphasizing the value of peer-based support and survivor leadership.
The findings of this study affirm the need for ecological and relational perspectives in care of survivors, and approaches using a trauma-informed, victim-centered lens. Findings affirm the value of understanding the nuances of complex trauma as well as celebrating the capacity for posttraumatic growth. Furthermore, while relationships are most significantly impacted from the trafficking experience, they are also considered the greatest instrument of healing, through offering long-term commitment and belief in the individual. Finally, findings suggest comprehensive recommendations directly from the voices of survivors for community members and service providers.
Evans, Heather R. DSW, "From the Voices of Domestic Sex Trafficking Survivors: Experiences of Complex Trauma & Posttraumatic Growth" (2019). Doctorate in Social Work (DSW) Dissertations. 126.
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