Trauma Bonds: Why a Victim Stays & “Loves” Her Pimp

(c) Courage Worldwide.  Certified Volunteer Training.  November 2012.

Most of society cannot fathom why an individual would stay with their pimp or sell their bodies for sex.  Yet, when a victim of sex trafficking says of his/her pimp, “I love him”, and this is the reasons why [s]he cannot fathom leaving him, [s]he is describing trauma bonds in the best way that [s]he can.  [S]he knows that [s]he has very strong feelings for him and can only attribute those feelings to love.  These victims do not have the knowledge they need to accurately describe the dynamics involved in the bonding process that occurs with abuse and trauma and therefore attribute their intense feelings the best way the can – love.

Basics of Bonding

  • Bonding is a biological and emotional process that makes people more important to each other over time.
  • Bonding is in part why it is harder to leave a relationship.
  • Experiencing extreme situations and extreme feelings together tends to bond people in a special way.
  • Growing up in an unsafe home makes later unsafe situations have more holding power.  This has a biological basis beyond any cognitive learning.

Trauma Bonding

Trauma bonds are able to form only because human beings have a biological need to form attachments with others [Bowlby, 1988].  Any attachment is better than no attachment at all, a fact that is evidenced by the reality of relationships that are otherwise incomprehensible.  In times of stress and danger, people have a greater need to be cared for and attach to others.

Felicity de Zulueta, in her description of “Traumatic Attachment” says: “Such an attachment can be understood as the internalized product of repeated experiences in which these children have felt both terrified and – paradoxically – desperately in need of their caregiver, whose protection is felt as essential for their survival.”

Trauma bonds are not formed accidentally on the side of the perpetrator.  There is extreme intentionality in creating a “need” and “bond” between themselves and their victim.  The bond occurs because the well-being of the victim is dependent upon the abuser.  The abuser gradually persuades the girl [or boy] to spend more alone time with them, isolating her from family and friends.  He creates the persona of a “provider” and wants to be in sole charge of the money so that he can get  her anything she desires.  He controls her time, where her attention goes and ultimately her behavior in the name of “love” and what “makes him happy”.  Her desire to fulfill this role and make him happy is exciting at first but as time goes on the mind and emotional control often leads to physical and sexual abuse.  Any “bucking” of the system leads to punishment and so “making him happy” is not solely for his sake anymore, but for her protection and survival as well.


One thought on “Trauma Bonds: Why a Victim Stays & “Loves” Her Pimp

  1. Pingback: Trauma Bonds (Continued) « Anna Engel

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