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The mental health difficulties experienced by victims of human trafficking (modern slavery) and the impact this has on their ability to provide testimony

Prof Cornelius Katona
Prof Louise Howard BSc MSc MPhil PhD MRCP MRCPsych, King’s College London

Victims of human trafficking (VoTs) have often endured extreme, traumatic experiences and many will develop emotional disorders (Oram et al 2015; 2016; Ottisova et al 2016; Katona et al 2016) as a result of interpersonal violence. This includes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, as well as other disorders such as substance misuse and psychosis. This briefing paper will concentrate on the difficulties in provision of testimony associated with such mental health problems.

Because many VoTs are also asylum seekers and both populations have high rates of PTSD, this briefing paper is based in large part on research in the closely related area of testimony in asylum seekers. It draws in particular on the work of the Centre for Emotion and Law. Victims of trafficking may also have other underlying vulnerabilities such as learning difficulties, which may not be diagnosed.

Research in the area has identified four key themes which impact on the ability of traumatised people, including, but not only, those with a diagnosis of PTSD, to provide evidence: the effect of trauma on memory; the effect of shame on disclosure, the narrative dilemmas that VoTs often face, and the often false assumptions made by decision makers regarding the credibility and reliability of testimony. These themes and their potential impact are described in the this briefing paper.