Updated: May 26
It wasn’t your fault.
You found yourself immersed in the horror of sex trafficking, and whether you arrived at that place through force, trickery, threats, or some other way, remember – what you suffered at the evil hands of others wasn’t your fault.
Slavery in History
Look back at your school history lessons on slavery, in the times when slavery in the U.S., Britain, and the rest of the world where slavery was legal and considered “normal” by many.
When you read or saw documentaries about it and listened to your teacher lecture on slavery, did you ever think to yourself that it was probably the fault of the slaves that they were in those awful situations? That they should have done something different to prevent it – and maybe even thought that they got what they deserved?
Of course not. You knew they were victims of a monstrous evil.
As were you. And although you may be determined to no longer be a victim, to get strong, and reclaim your life (congratulations!) you were at one time, victimized. All the fault for what happened lies at the feet of those who preyed upon you, and they will one day answer to God for the evil they’ve done. If they refuse to repent, it won’t be pretty.
In the meantime, you live with the fallout from what has been done to you. To make matters worse, some people will shake their heads and tsk-tsk, asking questions and making comments such as, “Well, she wasn’t always under lock and key. There were plenty of opportunities to leave, and she didn’t take them,” or simply, “Why didn’t you just leave?”
The question haunts you. And maybe, just maybe as you look back at your nightmare and the times when perhaps you could have slipped quietly away, you ask yourself the same question
– Why didn’t I just leave?
The answer might well be Stockholm Syndrome.
What is Stockholm Syndrome?
Stockholm syndrome is often described as the mysterious bond that can form between people who have been kidnapped or taken hostage and their captors. But what if this doesn’t apply to you? Read on, and we’ll get to a broader definition later.
Psychologists believe that this bond may be formed when the captors threaten to kill the captives, then after a time of thinking about it — or pretending to think about it — they decide not to kill them.
The victims’ relief at having been spared is so intense that they feel gratitude toward the captors for allowing them to live. A unconscious survival mechanism then kicks in, one powerful enough to drown out the initial feelings of hatred toward their captors.
Completely isolated and helpless, victims become dependent on their captors for everything, including life. So dependent, that they may begin to look upon even minuscule acts of so-called “kindness”, like being allowed to use a bathroom, being given a filthy blanket, or even not being beaten or tortured, as being treated well.
These captives may become hypervigilant to the demands of their captors and link the captors happiness with their own, often progressing to the point where the captors become convinced that the police or other authorities, or the rescue team sent in, are the bad guys, bent on ruining their wonderful, budding relationship with their captors.
Psychologists say that this attitude is especially prevalent in hostage situations where the hostages know they are of no use to their captors, except as leverage against a third party.
Cut off from friends, family, the police, or any help or support and immersed 24/7 in a violent, turbulent sea of threats, lies, beatings, torture, and random acts of “kindness”, it’s no wonder so many of these captives additionally fall victim to the mind games of their captors. Although they don’t realize it at a conscious level, playing the game along with their captors becomes a means of survival.
Stockholm Syndrome – What’s in a Name?
August 23, 1973.
Just another day for the employees at the Sveriges Kreditbanken, a bank in Stockholm Sweden. That is, until Jan-Erik Olsson entered the bank, pulled a sub-machine gun out of a folded jacket he carried on his arm, shot a hole in the ceiling, and yelled, “The party has just begun!” Olsson then proceeded to wound a policeman who had responded to a silent alarm, before taking the four bank employees – three women and one man, hostage.
Olsson demanded the release of his future partner in crime Clark Olofsson, who was in prison for armed robbery and being an accessory in the murder of a police officer. Olsson also demanded over $700,000 in Swedish and foreign money and a getaway car. The authorities brought his friend Olofsson, plus the money and the car within a few hours, but refused Olsson’s demand that they be allowed to take the hostages with them to assure his and Olafsson’s safety.
The hostages had been imprisoned in the stuffy bank vault. Despite the terrifying situation, they quickly began to bond to their abductors, thanks to their random acts of “kindness”. One of the gunmen allowed hostage Birgitta Lundblad to call her family, even consoling her when she couldn’t reach them and encouraging her, “Try again; don’t give up.” When another hostage, Kristin Enmark, was cold and began to shiver, Olsson put a jacket around her shoulders. When the third female hostage, Elisabeth Oldgren, began to feel claustrophobic, he tied a 30-foot rope to her and allowed her to walk outside the vault.
A year later, Oldgren said, “I remember thinking he was very kind to allow me to leave the vault.” The one male hostage, Sven Saftstrom, later said, “When he treated us well, we could think of him as an emergency God.” And Enmark even called the Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme in an attempt to convince him to allow the robbers to take her with them in the getaway car. She told the Prime Minister that she fully trusted Olofssen, she was not a desperate woman, and that Olofsson and Olsson had been “very nice” to them. She said that she feared if they couldn’t leave together, the police would attack them and they would all die.
After five days, the police had had enough and pumped teargas into the vault, and the criminals surrendered. For the hostages safety, police told them to come out first, but they refused because they feared if the bad guys exited first, the police would shoot them. Enmark shouted to the police, “No! Jan and Clark go first – you’ll gun them down if we do!”
But the strange bond continued to the end: in the doorway, the robbers and their captives hugged, kissed, and shook hands. As Enmark was wheeled away on a gurney, she shouted to Olofsson, “Clark, I will see you again!”
Even after five long days of being abused and fearing for their lives, the former hostages even visited them in prison.
Although this strange bonding became known then as “Stockholm Syndrome” thanks to the publicity, psychologists had long been familiar with the condition. It had been found in numerous studies of other abusive situations, such as prisoners of war, abused women and children (including victims of incest), members of cults, and even those in non-violent yet intimidating, controlling relationships.
You’re a Survivor
Far from being the fault of the victims, this bonding with their abusers is nothing more than a means to survive. And it is an unconscious one, at that, with the victims unaware of what they’re doing. Later, they often look back on their bizarre bond with their abuser(s) with a sort of horrified fascination, shocked and bewildered by their own behavior. Even though it wasn’t their fault.
Just like it isn’t yours.
Stop blaming and beating yourself up. You did what you had to do to survive an ugly, deadly situation. And if you had what is now widely known as Stockholm Syndrome, you didn’t even realize what it was you were doing. Your unconscious mind took over, determined get you through your nightmare alive, whatever it took. You were stronger than you ever knew.
And you did it. You’ve come out on the other side, triumphant. You may not feel triumphant at the moment, but you are. No longer a victim, you’re a survivor. And now, it’s time to move beyond even that – to go from merely surviving to thriving. You can do it. With counseling, help from loved ones and other survivors/thrivers, and people like the ones at Redeem and Restore… and above all, with the help and healing of the Great Physician Himself, Jesus.
And as David Crowder sings in Come as You Are:
So lay down your burdens,
Lay down your shame. All who are broken,
Lift up your face. Oh, wanderer, come home!
You’re not too far. So lay down your hurt,
Lay down your heart.
Come as you are.