Trafficking Interview for Hickory Daily Record

Is human trafficking something that we deal with here in Western North Carolina? I assumed it was only a serious problem in areas with a large port.

North Carolina used to be the 5th worst state in the US for human trafficking. Charlotte is the worst spot in all of North Carolina, so yes, it is here. Ports are big for trafficking as far as international trafficking, but large cities are a problem within the US. Another place you’ll find trafficking is on the freeways, as traffickers keep victims on the move, going from one part of the country to another. 

There are 2 main kinds of human trafficking–labor trafficking and sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is by far the most prevalent, but both exist in America. For example, labor trafficking targets mostly male immigrants in the 20-40 year range. A trafficker can bring in a group of people from overseas, take their passports, ship them up to a sweet potato plantation in the mountains and no one ever hears from them again. The victims are not likely to escape because they don’t know English, the police are corrupt in their society so they wouldn’t think of calling for help, the trafficker has their passport and the only person they know in the US is the trafficker, who likely feeds them lies about what would happen if someone found them. 

Sex trafficking is very different. In the US, the average age for a girl to get trafficked is 12-14 and for boys it’s 11-13. A trafficker might groom a victim over the internet or offer a girl a ride home. She gets in the car and disappears. Everyone assumes she ran away, while the trafficker leaves the state and takes her from truck stop to truck stop, forcing her to walk from truck to truck offering her company, often at the threat that if she doesn’t do it, he’ll go after her younger sister or other family members.

How were you first made aware of the problem of human trafficking?

My former boss, when I lived overseas, started a program called Women At Risk International. They rescue women and children all over the world (www.warinternational.org). I wanted to be part of it, but couldn’t go overseas to rescue people myself. That’s how the Stolen Series got started.

Why do you feel this problem needs to be more noticed by everyday American citizens?

I think a lot of people think of trafficking as an “over there” problem. Something that happens in 3rd world countries. I love training groups about trafficking so I can tell them about the trafficking at truck stops, or the rise in trafficking whenever there is a large event like the Super Bowl or NASCAR races. People can’t do anything if they don’t know about the problem. Once they know, they can make a difference. Things are changing in a huge way right now because more and more people are becoming aware, know what to look for, and know what to do if they see something. That makes what I do very fulfilling. For example, www.truckersagainsttrafficking.org has materials people put up in gas stations or truck stops with the human trafficking hotline on them (1-888-373-7888). Material with the trafficking hotline has been spotted in Atlanta airports now, and bathrooms at rest stops in Tennessee. 

Because more funding for trafficking comes from America than any other country, I feel like we should be the leaders in the fight against it. The mindset needs to change about what fuels trafficking, such as pornography and sites like Backpage.com, and the more we know, the more we can fight.

When you spoke at CVCC what was the one thing you wanted everyone in the audience to take home with them?

That they have value and worth. When each person understands the value of life – their own and others’ lives – it changes the way we see ourselves and the world. We can stop being defined by our past and can help others find that freedom as well.

How does human trafficking change the world we are raising our children in?

Slavery is not a new problem, but the fact that predators can find and groom victims through the internet heightens the danger to our children and grandchildren. Before, traffickers would need to wander the streets looking for runaways, but now they can spend their days on Facebook, or Instagram or Snapchat looking for vulnerable young people. We often think of trafficking in terms of people being abducted, but one study showed that only accounted for 11% of the trafficking cases. Over 30% were trafficked through offers or help (a job, money, place to live, etc.). The horrible part of that statistic was that over 50% of victims were trafficked by someone who pretended romantic interest.

Where do most of the trafficking victims end up?

To be honest, the first thing that came to mind was “dead.” A sex trafficking victim has an average life span of 5-7 years after being trafficked. 

What is the difference between today’s human trafficking and the historical slave trade?

Back when slavery was legal, a person could be bought for the equivalent of about $400. Today you can buy a person for around $90 and in some places, babies are sold for as little as $25. When we think of the historic slave trade, we think of people being forcibly abducted and sold against their will. Now, poverty and desperation bring people to the door of human trafficking, sometimes without them realizing it.

For example, a trafficker may go to a third world country and tell parents they will give their children free education and a good job, and parents are handing over their children to these people. Or, in desperate situations, a family has to decide if it will let all the children starve, or sell one to feed the others. It’s a horrible thing to think of any parent having to consider that. I’m so grateful I live in so much abundance that I don’t have to consider such a thing, but I want to help the people who do.

When did you know that human trafficking was something you, personally, had to stand up and make a argument against?

I had been writing for about 10 years when I decided I wanted to write a novel. I thought about it and tossed around some ideas and finally my mother said, “If you could write about anything, what would you write about?” By the end of the day, I think I had 3 chapters of Stolen Woman written. It combined some of the things I care about most: human trafficking, missions, and women knowing their worth in the love Jesus has for them. Since the book and the series came out, I started speaking on the topic because people were so interested, and that has just grown until now I’m a contracted speaker and get to train people on not just the problem, but how they can be part of the solution.

The Bible says we’re to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; to defend the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:8). Jesus came to set the captives free, and as His follower I don’t see how I can say I love Him if I don’t care about what He cares about most. I have to be part of this.

Do you have a favorite success story about how you’ve changed someone’s outlook about human trafficking?

The day a 13-year-old girl sent me a note that said my book had changed her life. I tell people all the time that they can make a difference, but it sure is wonderful when I hear things like that and remember that yes, despite my health limitations, God can use me to make a difference, too.