Spiritual Needs & Considerations of Victims and Survivors

Survivors Have Spiritual Needs

Religion and spirituality can often be a source of support and healing for those who have been victims of human trafficking. Chaplains may be the first to encounter victims of human trafficking, because they can offer a safe and confidential space where an individual can seek spiritual guidance. In addition to physical, mental, and emotional needs, survivors have many spiritual needs, including the need for:

  • Unconditional Love
  • Forgiveness
  • Prayer
  • Community Support

Survivors may also need assistance with:

  • Meaning Making (Why did God let this bad thing happen to me?)
  • Purpose (Why am I even here on earth?)
  • Depression (Nothing interests me anymore. No one cares.)
  • Thoughts of Suicide (I wish I could die/suicidal ideation/suicide attempts)
  • Moral Injury (I saw and did bad things when I was being trafficked.)

Addressing Spiritual Abuse

In addition to physical, sexual, psychological and/or financial abuse, human trafficking may also include spiritual abuse. Some traffickers will use religion and spirituality as a way to control another person. This could result in victims questioning their spiritual and religious beliefs and values, and could also make them fearful of escalating abuse if their trafficker has forbidden them to practice their faith.

Examples of Spiritual Abuse:

  • Using beliefs to manipulate someone
  • Preventing someone from practicing their religious or spiritual beliefs
  • Forcing someone to violate their religious beliefs or practices
  • Ridiculing, denying, or minimizing someone’s beliefs
  • Forcing children to be reared in a faith that has not been agreed to
  • Misusing scripture or religious texts to justify abusive, dominating, or oppressive behavior
  • Using religious guilt to manipulate someone into doing what they want
  • Questioning someone’s sense of reality
  • Discounting someone’s sense of right and wrong
  • Denying a person’s value
  • Using marital status to justify sexual demands and sex trafficking
  • Forcing someone to witness or participate in ritual abuse, such as animal sacrifice
  • Use of spiritual rituals or practices to scare a victim into submitting to demands
  • Manipulating others in the religious community to control and ostracize

The Spiritual Impact of Human Trafficking

Victims of human trafficking may have heard conflicting messages from their trafficker or others about their faith and may be apprehensive about seeking support for fear that they will not be supported, or that they will be shunned, or not believed.

Some victims may have also experienced abuse at the hands of someone in a faith or religious setting, creating a mistrust or fear of faith-based institutions, organizations, or spiritual practices. Chaplains must demonstrate a culture of unconditional love, compassion, and support to help those most in need. If a Chaplain faces challenges in supporting a victim – because it may contradict their personal and/or spiritual beliefs, practices, or experiences – they can still be of great assistance by referring victims to other advocacy and support services within the DoD and in the local community for the help they need. Making such connections between victims and those who can help them can be lifesaving.

In addition to trafficking and abuse, victims may also suffer the spiritual impacts of abuse including:

  • Isolation from religious or spiritual community
  • Broken relationships with a support network
  • Loss of belief in their faith
  • A need for spiritual reassurance that they are supported and not at fault
  • Questioning core values and religious or spiritual beliefs
  • A search for meaning and justice
  • Feelings of divine punishment
  • Disconnect from God
  • Questions about the value of prayer and ritual
  • Struggles with faith traditions

“Many survivors feel (no matter their religion) that God will never forgive them – I have found this to be a huge piece as we have worked with survivors – whether Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, another religion or no religion – they believe they are stuck with guilt forever. Finding freedom from blaming oneself is a big part of healing. Survivors are made in the Image of God and He has a future for everyone.”

Jo Anne Lyon
General Superintendent Emerita
The Wesleyan Church

**Adapted from:
Domestic Violence and Faith Communities: Guidelines for Leaders
Created in partnership between the Governor’s Office of Faith Based Community Development Services and the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.