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Victim 101- Gaslighting


Katya Slater


July 16, 2018

We're continuing our Victim 101 series with an abusive tactic that is very common, but few know the name of: gaslighting.

What is gaslighting?

Using lies and trickery to make victims doubt their own minds and accept what’s happening as normal.

The term comes from a 1938 play called “Gas Light” in which a greedy husband psychologically terrorizes his wife so he can send her to a sanitarium and become the sole inheritor of her family’s wealth. He moves objects, flickers their gas lights, and subtly alters their home
environment. The more she notices, the more he claims everything is normal and she’s just seeing things.

It sounds esoteric, but it’s possible you’ve experienced mild forms of this. If you’ve ever searched for your car keys without realizing someone hid them as a prank, you’ve been gaslit. If your friend has ever sneaked some French fries off your plate while you weren’t looking and acted like he didn’t touch your food after you notice, you’ve been gaslit. If your passive-aggressive roommates claim you didn’t ask them to do the dishes when you could have sworn you mentioned it yesterday, you’ve been gaslit.

When traffickers gaslight their victims, however, the stakes and situations are far more serious.


A victim comes home to find several personal items missing. The trafficker reminds her that she agreed to sell them to pay back a loan, only she doesn’t remember having that conversation.

A trafficker tells a victim that doctor’s appointments are hard to get. Every time he asks for an update, he’s told he’s still on the waiting list.

A client coming in for a massage demands sex from his trafficked therapist. The protesting victim is calmly informed that this is normal in America.

How it feels

Gaslighting is a powerful form of mental abuse because it causes victims to doubt their own memories, judgment, and perceptions of reality. Imagine not being able to trust your own thoughts, not knowing whether your understanding of the world is reasonable or healthy. If everything you do and remember is suddenly untrustworthy, you have nowhere to turn but to someone else for reassurance and help. And if that person is confident, logical, and in control, it might not take much convincing to accept their words at face value.