Trauma Bonding

Trauma bonding (also known as Stockholm Syndrome) is a fascinating phenomenon. Although I have personally experienced a trauma bond, it still feels counter-intuitive and often strange when I observe it in other’s relationship. Approaching the issue through a human approach helps to better understand how it works.

People are pack animals. We need each other to survive, and we need each other to learn how to be ‘human’. Think about it – how would you know how to speak language, get dressed, use the post office, or acquire food without another person teaching you these things?

Because we are pack animals, our brains give us huge rewards when we bond with others. When babies are born, mothers are flooded with a bonding hormone called oxytocin. Babies themselves are hardwired to bond with their primary caretakers, the ones who feed and protect them. As we grow, we bond with the people we spend time with, share meals with, and experience new things with. This is involuntary; you cannot turn this primal reaction on and off at will.

People who experience intimacy together, travel to foreign lands together, or survive something scary together bond even more quickly and securely. Again, this is a primal, survival aspect of being human. If you and a friend travel to a place where you don’t speak the language or know your way around, you will grow close as you learn to survive in your new surrounds together. If you and a friend are robbed at gunpoint, you will never forget the person you survived with.

Experiencing violence perpetrated by a caretaker or someone you care about or love is very confusing for the human mind. This is especially true when the perpetrator is kind before and after the violence is committed. The primal part of the brain does not know how to ‘turn off’ the mechanism that bonds to another person you survive violence with.

Traffickers understand this bonding method, and they use it to their advantage. 

Catie's Talk at Sonoma State University, March 22, 2017

I was honored to speak to 200 college freshman at Sonoma State University this Spring. Their "Global Challenges & Identities' course spans two semesters, and helps first year students adapt to college life as they start to get a deeper understanding of themselves and the world we live in. 

My guest lecture was two parts: First, an hour speaking to the entire class in an auditorium setting, talking about my story, human trafficking & how the anti-trafficking movement sometimes misunderstands the very problem it is trying to solve. Later in the day, there was a 'round table' style question & answer session. The room was full, and the questions were fantastic - challenging, curious & caring. One young woman asked for career advice; she wanted to go into law enforcement & was interested in working trafficking cases. Another student shared she had been in a relationship that involved abuse - and didn't realize it until hearing my talk. 

As I drove through beautiful Northern California on my way home, my heart was full, my mind inspired. I love being in college settings; I never had anything like a 'normal' experience in my twenties, and being around young people working to find their way in this life always sparks my interest and curiosity. Knowing I helped at least one person to more deeply understand an important (although unhealthy) relationship from her past - these are the interactions that keep me coming back to work.

My Very First TV Interview

Hard to believe this interview was only three short years ago - my how much has changed since then! In this interview, I was still too afraid to show my face; afraid my exploiter would retaliate. Today, I no longer live in fear. I refuse to let the man who took so much from me continue to take my voice. I look back at this interview, relieved at how much I have grown and overcome. Lisa Bernard, the reporter is still now a friend of mine, and I consider her to be an incredible ally in the human trafficking space. I appreciate her giving me the opportunity to break my silence publicly for the first time, even though I was still afraid.