The Psychology of Abuse

By Katie Sechrist

We all have watched the movies and shows with a hostage negotiation, where the criminal has taken victims captive and a fierce pursuit results in a terrified individual being freed from danger. 

But what if a victim isn’t terrified? What if they are quite the opposite?

Stockholm Syndrome is a condition in which a hostage develops an alliance or bond with their captor during captivity. The term was developed in 1973 in Stockholm, Sweden when 4 hostages were freed during a 6-day bank robbery. These 4 individuals refused to testify against their captor in court, even raising money for the defense. This condition has manifested in numerous other cases. So what exactly is the construct of Stockholm Syndrome?

There are 4 key components of Stockholm Syndrome:

  1. No previous relationship between hostage and captor;

  2. The development of positive feelings towards the captor;

  3. Hostage refusal to cooperate with law enforcement;

  4. The hostage holding the same values as the captor, not perceiving them as a threat in which they believe in the humanity of their captor.

The physical and psychological effects of Stockholm Syndrome include:

  1. Cognitive: blurred memory, confusion, refusal to accept the reality of events, and recurring flashbacks;

  2. Emotional: fear, depression, guilt, PTSD, and lack of feeling;

  3. Social: anxiety, cautiousness, irritability;

  4. Physical: development of health conditions related to lack of sleep and food.

Human Trafficking and Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm Syndrome is a contested illness and has affected victims of sexual abuse, political and religious oppression, and human trafficking. Yes, even human trafficking. 

A significan question from society regarding human trafficking is “why do they stay?” Traffickers prey on those who are emotionally and mentally unstable, grooming victims toward becoming more and more dependent on their care and misconstrued provision and support. 

Traffickers gain their victims’ trust and develop an emotional bond, which kickstarts the “brainwashing” aspect of Stockholm Syndrome. It becomes a defense mechanism that allows victims to survive. They start to perceive their trafficker as kind, making excuses for them because they believe defiance will only result in violence to themselves or their families as previously threatened. Not only do victims perceive escape as impossible, but over time start to view their trafficker in a positive light and as the only means of survival.

Exploitation, threats, and violence leave untold marks on their victims, even causing behavior that can be perceived as irrational. That’s why understanding the trauma of trafficking and having compassion for victims is crucial for helping survivors remain free.

The first step to prevention is education, awareness, and understanding. Greenlight Operation offers age appropriate education and trainings at schools, churches, clubs, events, or other community gatherings. If you would like to schedule a speaking engagement or training event please go to https://www.greenlightoperation.org/education-awareness.

To partner with us financially, read our blog, meet our team, or grab some great swag, visit

www.greenlightoperation.org. Together we can end the stigma.

Jessica BarnettComment