North Carolina is eighth among all 50 states in terms of the number of reported human trafficking cases. According to Project No Rest at UNC-Chapel Hill, “People, of all genders, across the state are at risk due to many factors, including the major highways that run through our state (40, 85, and 95), a large, transient military population surrounded by sexually oriented businesses, numerous rural agricultural areas with a high demand for cheap labor, and an increasing number of gangs.”
So, here’s why one woman’s story is so important.
For the past few months, I have participated in a fellowship giving me access to hundreds of law enforcement, government officials, journalists, nonprofits and community activists speaking on the topic. I spent eight months researching the topic with task forces asking how this happens and what we can do for survivors. I can honestly say that the story Women AdvaNCe published on March 11 is a rare perspective shared by an actual survivor. She was honored to know that anyone wanted to hear from her. A new writer’s collective member, who asked to remain anonymous, risked her life and safety to share her story about being kidnapped and transported from NC to Washington, DC for the purpose sex trafficking. State and federal law enforcement missed the opportunity to rescue her once, but she was eventually saved by an FBI agent. This story is hard to read, but it is necessary for us to understand the past and present trauma of survivors.
“The PTSD I had to live with was brutal. For days, they drugged the girls with coke and other things to keep us awake and ‘working.’ For days, I wasn’t allowed to eat. I had lost so much weight when I came home, I’m pretty sure my stomach shrunk. I cried in every restaurant I went in for weeks, because the food was so good, and I wanted it fresh, but I couldn’t eat more than a few bites and I was full. My clothes were too big. I’d have spurts of anger and would punch a hole through the wall. I didn’t mean to cause damage, but I was so lost and angry, it was hard sometimes to deal with.”
It’s hard to fathom it all but she went on to make a brave choice.
“I decided I wanted to deal with the PTSD. I went to a locked facility for underage youth, by choice. Being in a locked facility helped me to focus on myself and what I wanted in the future. I knew in there I was safe, and I was able to clean my body inside and out. I gained weight; I looked good. I was able to receive counseling and therapy. My friends and family came every day to see me. My mentor came with a boombox that she plugged in the wall, pulled out her latest motivational CD, and we listened while she occasionally chimed in about spirit being on my side.”
Her story reminds us to look around. Human trafficking victims can be sexually exploited or forced to work in seemingly legitimate businesses. This could be a worker at a nail salon or spa who appears to be living at the business, minors who have significantly older boyfriends, housekeepers or nannies who don’t leave the homes where they work. Last year, NC had 258 reported cases of human trafficking.
If we want things to change, survivors must be heard, perpetrators arrested and prosecuted, the demand for trafficking victims ended and the general public must become aware of the dangers. We can’t afford to look away. If you or someone you know is a victim of this crime, call National Human Trafficking Hotline 1-888-373-7888 (TTY: 711) or visit humantraffickinghotline.org.
— Antionette Kerr, Women Advance Leadership Team
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