Breaking the Chains: The Role of Mind Control in Human Trafficking with Rebecca Bender 

Human trafficking is defined in international law as the use of fraud, force, or coercion to enslave people. It is a scourge that operates not just through physical coercion but through the devastating use of mind control, a method of psychological enslavement. Rebecca Bender is a courageous survivor and advocate who works tirelessly to empower survivors, train law enforcement, do expert witness work, and assist policymakers. She created the Rebecca Bender Initiative and the online Elevate Academy, which empowers trafficking survivors over the age of eighteen to move forward with their lives. She found encouragement and mentorship from Carissa Phelps and Rachel Thomas, who, with me, developed the Ending the Game ten-session program for trafficking survivors under the age of eighteen. 

Bender’s narrative symbolizes hope and fortitude, offering a guiding light for others. Elevate Academy is a testament to the potential of survivor-led initiatives—transforming personal struggle into collective empowerment and setting a precedent for how lived experience can ignite significant social change. Through such leadership, survivors are not just reclaiming their narratives; they’re redefining the very battle against trafficking. Understanding the tactics traffickers use is critical for prevention, as well as escape and recovery. My discussions with experts and survivors are not just academic; they are practical resources that shine a light on the manipulative strategies used in trafficking. Knowledge of these tactics can be lifesaving for anyone at risk or currently trapped. In this exploration, we delve deep into the intricate web of human trafficking, examining the various manipulative tactics employed by traffickers and the significant role that education and empowerment play in the recovery process.  

It is critical that we have good insight into the typologies of traffickers, which are pivotal in understanding the complex dynamics of human trafficking. By understanding some differing types of traffickers like ‘Romeo,’ ‘Gorilla,’ and ‘CEO,’ Rebecca sheds light on the varied and manipulative strategies used to recruit and exploit victims. ‘Romeo’ traffickers use romantic manipulation, creating emotional bonds to control their victims. This tactic is particularly insidious because it blurs the lines between affection and exploitation, leaving victims confused and often unwilling to recognize their circumstances as abusive. ‘Gorilla’ traffickers rely on intimidation and violence, instilling fear to maintain dominance. This approach is brutally straightforward, creating an environment of constant terror where the immediate need for survival drives compliance. In contrast, ‘CEO’ traffickers deceive their victims with false promises of lucrative opportunities, exploiting their aspirations. These traffickers create elaborate ruses, often presenting sophisticated business models or career opportunities that are entirely fraudulent, trapping their victims in exploitative situations under the guise of professional advancement. Understanding these typologies equips all stakeholders with the tools to combat different forms of trafficking more effectively. It offers survivors a framework to understand their experiences and begin the healing process. For professionals in the field, this knowledge is essential for recognizing signs of trafficking, tailoring their response to specific situations, and providing practical support to those affected. 

In addition, Rebecca Bender’s role in educating professionals about human trafficking is pivotal. Her specialized training sessions for law enforcement, FBI, Homeland Security, and medical professionals are tailored to impart an in-depth understanding of the intricacies of human trafficking. Her training covers a range of critical topics, including recognizing signs of trafficking, understanding the psychological impact on victims, and learning effective communication strategies to support survivors. These sessions are crucial in fostering a more informed, sensitive, and effective response from those on the front lines, enhancing the overall efficacy of trafficking prevention and intervention efforts. 

The necessity of expanding the legal framework to encompass the psychological dimensions of coercion that traffickers utilize fully cannot be underscored. The law, as it stands, inadequately addresses the invisible bonds of psychological control that are just as restrictive as physical restraints. By advocating for legislative change, my goal is to integrate a more comprehensive understanding of coercion that includes the sophisticated psychological tactics of mind control and manipulation. 

Such a legislative evolution would mark a monumental shift in how justice systems perceive and prosecute human trafficking, providing a more holistic approach to the crime. It would acknowledge the deep psychological scars inflicted upon victims and recognize the complex strategy of domination that traffickers employ. If the law can be updated to reflect these realities, it would enhance the protection of victims and ensure that traffickers are held accountable for the entire scope of their abuses, not just the physical. This change is not merely theoretical—it is a critical step towards dismantling the sophisticated networks of human trafficking and freeing victims from the comprehensive shackles of their oppressors. 

Initiatives spearheaded by survivors like Rebecca Bender offer an authentic and powerful perspective essential in this battle. Survivor-led programs tend to be more empathetic and effective, drawing on real-life experiences and understanding of the victim’s journey. These initiatives also play a crucial role in providing support and rehabilitation to other survivors, creating a network of empowerment and advocacy that is instrumental in the broader fight against trafficking. 

Complementing Bender’s insights are the contributions of Rachel Thomas and CODIS Phelps, along with Paul Chang’s implementation of the BITE model in the context of labor trafficking. Thomas’s 10-point program “Ending the Game” and Phelps’s work provide additional layers to understanding and addressing human trafficking. Similarly, Chang’s use of the BITE model for training against labor trafficking exemplifies the diverse and interconnected approaches required in this field. These varied strategies, ranging from survivor-led education programs to behavioral models in professional training, underscore the multifaceted nature of combating human trafficking. Such diverse approaches are crucial in building a comprehensive and holistic response to this complex issue. 

The battle against human trafficking demands a multifaceted approach, encompassing awareness, legal reform, and comprehensive support for survivors. Survivor-led initiatives, specialized training for professionals, and understanding trafficker typologies are all critical components in this fight. By empowering survivors and equipping professionals, efforts to eradicate trafficking become more targeted and effective. 

For those affected by human trafficking or seeking help, resources like the National Human Trafficking Hotline provide crucial support. Additionally, initiatives like Elevate Academy offer educational and empowerment opportunities for survivors, reflecting the importance of comprehensive care in recovery and rebuilding lives post-trafficking.  


The Rebecca Bender Initiative website 

The Elevate Academy

Sex Trafficking in Plain Sight | Rebecca Bender | TEDxDavenport 

In Pursuit of Love: One Woman’s Journey from Trafficked to Triumphant by Rebecca Bender 

Ending the Game program 

Human Trafficking – Survivor Voices are Critical: A Conversation with a Survivor Attorney Carissa Phelps