First of two parts
It’s the stuff of movies. A young woman is lured by the promise of a dream job, glamorous travel or a generous new boyfriend. Before long she is trapped in a foreign place while her “boyfriend” holds onto her visa and passport.
This happens in Asia and Eastern Europe where women and children have been enslaved in brothels. It happens in textile factories and coffee farms in South America and Africa.
The above scenario, however, is based on events reported in Greenville, N.C. last October. The victim in that case came from western North Carolina, but she was a victim of human trafficking.
Human trafficking has been defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or commercial sex services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.” (The U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000)
The U.S. Department of State estimates there are 18,000 to 20,000 such victims in the U.S. today. North Carolina is one of the top 10 states where human trafficking has been reported, according to World Relief, an international humanitarian aid organization, and others.
Groups in the Triangle area have only recently begun looking at the trafficking issue. Before World Relief expanded to Durham last year, the only office in North Carolina fully dedicated to serving victims was World Relief in Greensboro.
“People are just starting to become aware,” said Andrew Castle, the director of the anti-human trafficking office at World Relief Durham. “There’s almost no funding for doing awareness.”
Last August, the Salvation Army of Wake County opened its anti-human trafficking program and has since worked on 19 cases, helping victims re-establish their lives after being rescued.
World Relief Durham hopes to work with the Salvation Army of Wake County by taking on some of the education and awareness responsibilities until they too can to aid victims, Castle said. “They have a heavy case load,” he said.
The assistance such organizations provide varies greatly from case to case.
“We do whatever the client needs,” said Anna Church, a former case manager at World Relief Greensboro. Case managers help connect victims with housing, job training and medical assistance.
On July 4th, an organization called Transforming Hope opened a home in the Triangle area called Emma’s Home for survivors of child sex trafficking. It has already received several referrals from law enforcement and social services.
Castle sees a “grassroots community uprising” approach to spreading the issue of human trafficking.
“We want to help people become advocates,” he said. He also wants to educate and empower churches to spread the word in their communities.
In this regard, the Summit Church in Durham has been a model example.
Summit Church member Lisa Shaeffer works full-time at an insurance company, but her passion is combating human trafficking. She learned about the issue through an international anti-human trafficking group called Tiny Hands.
“I was very taken by their message,” she said. She soon realized getting involved was a perfect opportunity for Summit Church to fulfill its goal to “love God, love each other, and love the world.” Since then, she and seven co-leaders have been growing a group that works with Tiny Hands, World Relief, the Salvation Army and Transforming Hope.
“We are trying to find ways to encourage the people already doing the work,” Shaeffer said, pointing out that a large part of Summit’s ministry is prayer. Surprisingly, the group spends time praying for traffickers, believing God can change them in a way that no number of volunteer hours can.
“We’re not nearly as committed as the trafficker,” Shaeffer said. To the traffickers or handlers, moving and selling people is a lucrative full time job, she explained. Part-time volunteers just can’t compete.
But the Summit group is committed. Recently, it assembled emergency kits containing about $120 worth of clothing, toiletries, calling cards and other items for survivors at the Salvation Army. Group members have addressed middle school classes and have plans to speak at N.C. State about the signs of human trafficking and how to prevent and report it.
“It’s exciting to see that once people are aware they really want to share it,” Schaeffer said. But she doesn’t want people to “just be happy with being educated.” Education, she said, must lead to actions like writing Congress, putting up posters, or reporting suspicious activity.
“It’s coming out of the shadows,” she said. “It’s not a taboo subject anymore.”
Coming Sunday: How to help
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