Ileana-Maria Turda (University of Central Lancashire)
Prof. Nicky Stanley (University of Central Lancashire), Dr Sarah Shorrock (University of Central Lancashire), Dr Emily Cooper (University of Central Lancashire), Dr Lis Bates (University of Central Lancashire)
Topic: The ‘loverboy’ and sex trafficking: Abusive relationships in trafficking and impact on mental health
In recent years, Romania has maintained a top position as a country of origin for sex trafficking in the UK (Home Office, 2019). Recruitment into sex work and sex trafficking brings substantial gains to traffickers, who are often men, whilst exposing female victims to psychological abuse and coercion (Rothman, 2015; Doychak & Raghavan, 2020). Together, these factors create a toxic situation which can impede women’s ability to exit trafficking and start the path to recovery.
The paper examines the post-trafficking trajectories of Romanian women sexually exploited in the UK. The voices of Romanian survivors of sex trafficking were gathered and analysed using a feminist research framework through semi-structured in-depth interviews. Women’s voices were accompanied by those of practitioners and key informants working in the anti-trafficking sector.
Though trafficking journeys were diverse and nuanced, many survivors experienced the so-called ‘loverboy’ approach to recruitment, which kept them in trafficking. Regardless of vulnerabilities and risks, the women desired to migrate, succeed in life and be in a romantic relationship; the traffickers fulfilled these needs in the early stages of recruitment. As a result, women ‘fell in love’, did not consider themselves victims, did not want to engage with authorities and could not exit the exploitation. The findings highlighted their coercion into trafficking and the implications and effects of psychological, sexual and physical abuse within relationships with the traffickers. Upon exit, women acknowledged the importance of deconstructing the image of their love relationships with the traffickers as crucial to recovery and mental health wellbeing.
The complexities of their experiences and relationships with traffickers reinforce the need to better understand women’s vulnerability, roles and the ‘loverboy’ effects in order to ensure engagement with authorities and provide better support post-trafficking.