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Rituals as a Control Mechanism in Human Trafficking: Systematic Review and Thematic Synthesis of Qualitative Literature

Prof Cornelius Katona
Amy Chisholm, Isabel Mark, Silvana Unigwe


Spiritual rituals have potential for misuse as a form of control in human trafficking. A lack of understanding of this process can lead to challenges in supporting trafficking survivors. This article is a metasynthesis of systematically reviewed qualitative literature on ritual use in human trafficking, providing insight into ritual practices and their impact.

Relevant qualitative research was identified via blind screening. A total of 3087 studies were screened; 24 met inclusion criteria. Data were analyzed using thematic synthesis, yielding eight themes incorporating 27 sub-themes. These were:

  1. background vulnerabilities that make a ritual a powerful control mechanism,
  2. trafficker intention to exploit,
  3. power and consent issues in agreement to a ritual and contract,
  4. powerful and often frightening ritual experiences,
  5. control mechanisms arising from the ritual experience,
  6. impact of the ritual on the victim,
  7. challenges for the victim in leaving and getting help, and
  8. successes in helping survivors who have escaped exploitation.

The article offers an illustrative framework for considering the relationship between rituals and human trafficking. It discusses implications for policy making that empowers trafficking survivors and promotes just outcomes within legal, governmental and health care systems.