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Substance Abuse Needs


Case Study: Convicted Trafficker Uses Drug Addiction as Form of Coercion

In 2013, a federal grand jury charged Andrew Fields with engaging in a sex trafficking scheme whereby he controlled his victims by supplying them with highly addictive controlled substances and by using their fear of withdrawal symptoms to force them into prostitution for his profit. Fields recruited vulnerable young women who were engaging in prostitution or performing at strip clubs and then rapidly escalated their drug use into addiction. Convicted on multiple counts of sex trafficking, he is currently serving a 33-year sentence.

Common health issues found in victims may be from substance abuse problems or addictions resulting from either being coerced into drug use by their traffickers or by turning to substance abuse to help cope with or mentally escape their desperate situations. Partnering with substance abuse treatment programs that are also trauma-informed can be critical when developing your victim services committee.

Some human trafficking victims struggle with substance abuse, which may have been exploited by the trafficker. For example—

  • Recruitment through substance use: Traffickers may target individuals with existing substance abuse issues to recruit into a trafficking situation.
  • Control through substance addiction: Traffickers may also use substance addiction to keep victims in a trafficking situation. It can be framed as a reward or punishment, or as a way to decrease the victim’s ability to resist trafficking and abuse.
  • Substance abuse as a coping mechanism: Some victims of human trafficking may abuse substances as a response to the trauma of their trafficking victimization.

Various medical and mental health issues can arise due to substance abuse problems. Victims may have feelings of powerlessness stemming from the misperception that the incident or series of incidents are somehow their fault. Other needs include hotlines or response teams that screen for suicidal or homicidal ideations or respond to medical emergencies such as detox from substance abuse. These extreme but not uncommon scenarios underline the need to partner with service organizations that offer unique expertise in responding appropriately to such crisis situations.

For additional information and tools, visit the Resource page for Section 4.4 Comprehensive Victim Services.