The Role of Oath-Taking in Human Trafficking: Experiences of Survivors
Every year an unknown number of people are trafficked to the UK for the purpose of exploitation. The literature identifies numerous psychological methods traffickers use to exert power and control over individuals (e.g. UNODC, 2021). Oath-taking ceremonies form part of a traditional spiritual belief system and have been identified as a method of psychological control within human trafficking through the exploitation of this existing belief system (Millett-Barrett, 2019; Ikeora, 2016). A systematic review of the literature showed a gap for research exploring survivors’ relationship to oath-taking as part of being trafficked and the subsequent impact it has had on their lives. This study takes a qualitative approach using inductive thematic analysis to explore survivors' accounts of their relationship to oath-taking. Ten West African women who have accessed and engaged with support following being trafficked were interviewed. Four main themes were identified through analysis: (1) The shifting of power, (2) The use of fear of “Juju” within human trafficking, (3) Loss, and (4) Moving on whilst living with the impact of “Juju” and the oath. The principal finding was the significant harm survivors have endured due to oath-taking as part of being trafficked and the devastating impact it has had on their lives. Findings are discussed in relation to past research and within the context of psychological theory, including the operation of power (Hagan and Smail, 1997). The clinical implications and recommendations which arise from this study are relevant for all professionals who encounter survivors who have experienced oath-taking as part of being trafficked and could lead to better support provided to survivors going forward.
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