Methods: This qualitative study involved in depth interviews with ten participants. Purposeful sampling was employed among licensed social workers or counselors working directly with survivors of sex trafficking. Audio recordings of interviews were transcribed and coded using a grounded theory approach, with first cycle in vivo, process, and initial coding and second cycle focused, axial, and theoretical coding. ATLAS.ti was used for all data storage and analysis.
Results: Four themes emerged from the data in regard to defining trauma bonding, and three themes emerged to illuminate the development of trauma bonds. The four themes that capture the essence of a trauma bond are: 1) embracing intensity, 2) power imbalance, 3) distortion of love, and 4) inescapability. The three themes that speak to the development of trauma bonds are: 1) universality, 2) gendered, and 3) grooming.
Conclusions and Implications: These findings provide much needed insight into the complexities of trauma bonding. The themes offer further clarity on this confusing phenomenon and can inform service providers’ approach as they seek to help survivors of sex trafficking resolve trauma bonds. Additionally, these themes provide a foundation for future research on this topic. Each theme should be explored in further depth, not only in studies with practitioners but also with sex trafficking survivors themselves. Additionally, similar studies with practitioners and survivors from populations such as domestic violence and incest would further elucidate the similarities and differences in trauma bonding among different populations.