For the average 12- to 14-year-old American girl, adolescence is a time of growing and learning – a carefree existence – however, for thousands of others, it marks their entry into a living hell of pornography and prostitution.
“Modern-day slaves,” as victims of human trafficking are called, are often forced into domestic servitude, farming labor, factory work or the commercial sex industry. Jan. 11, National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, is dedicated to spreading knowledge about this growing problem in the U.S.
Nearly 293,000 of America’s youth risk becoming victims of the sex trade, the U.S. Department of Justice reported. Research also shows that many of the sexually exploited were runaway or “thrown away” teens who saw prostitution as their only opportunity to survive the streets. However, ministries across the country are working to show these “lost” young adults that “love with no attachments” does exist.
Emily Fitchpatrick, founder and president of the Hope House and On Eagles Wings Ministries, told The Christian Post that she sees many girls who have been sexually abused, some starting at 4 years (or younger) – it becomes hard for them to let down their guard.
“They first come in usually ‘hard,’ they don’t trust you,” she said. “They don’t know why you care, why you’re there.”
Fitchpatrick shared that the N.C. faith-based programs look to provide a place of restoration and healing for domestic victims of sex trafficking, while renewing their strength through God’s word. She told CP that the girls are at first overwhelmed by the love freely given from volunteers, who dedicate their time with no monetary return.
“To see that unconditional love and to see that they don’t have to do anything in return – it’s so amazing to watch the process of change,” Fitchpatrick revealed. “You see a light in their eyes, a transformation taking place.”
“You see all of the bad moments, days they have breakdowns, [get] depressed, and angry. It’s like peeling an onion – layers, upon layers…”
According to Fitchpatrick, Hope House began as a strip club outreach and grew into a shelter for human trafficking victims. Hope House offers girls, 12-17, a place of restoration and healing – while On Eagles Wings provides a transitional living program for women ages 18-25. The faith-based organizations look to renew the strength of these young women through God’s word. The various programs and therapy provide the girls with job and life skills, health care, and mentorship.
Fitchpatrick shared the story of a 19-year-old who had been rescued last spring. The girl worked as an escort, under the control of her pimp. She had been severely beaten, and had only $50 to her name when On Eagles Wings was called to pick her up. The young woman was pregnant and her pimp hoped the physical abuse would cause her to miscarry. Volunteers were able to reunite the girl with her mom, putting her on a plane that night.
That same troubled teen started college in September, Fitchpatrick revealed.
“It’s really hard work…challenging work – just because of all the emotions that are involved,” she stated. “But it is rewarding just to see when they make progress. Just those little moments. [It’s] awesome to watch.”
Fitchpatrick relayed that the strength of these girls – “some of them raped and abused at such young ages, just tortured, [but] you see their amazing strength” – was an inspiration.
“If they know they can trust you and know you really care the [girls] are loyal and will love you right back,” she added. “It’s really amazing to be part of their life.”
In honor of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, Hope House and other advocate groups have banded together to educate the N.C. community on this important issue. The screening of “Very Young Girls,” a movie about a former sexually exploited youth-turned-activist that started the Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS), will be held at the “After Hours” room in the Cone University Center at UNC Charlotte. A panel discussion and Q&A will follow the showing, with the event running from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Sharedhope.org, under the National Protected Innocence Initiative, found that over 50 percent of the nation’s states do not have domestic minor sex trafficking laws. The national Trafficking Victims Protection Act has defined domestic minor sex exploitation as the “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.” Commercial sex acts include the use of a child in pornography, prostitution, and sexual performance. The full report of the greatest and weakest state legislative frameworks in the U.S. can be found at Sharedhope.org.
Meanwhile, A21 Campaign, which stands for eliminating injustice in the 21 century worldwide, has launched the “Because 21” campaign alongside U.S. National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. The slogan behind this movement being:
“Because everyone matters. Because everyone can make a difference. Because everyone can do something. We do, we can, we will.”
Participants can chose from 21 different ways to get involved and help raise awareness about this issue – engaging and discussing with others between Jan. 11 to 21.
According to 2007 statistics from the International Labour Organization, about 2.5 million people are in forced labor, including sexual exploitation, at any given time because of trafficking. “Every continent and every type of economy,” is affected by it, the U.N. Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (GIFT) reports.
However, the U.S. State Department estimates that number to be around 12.3 million people, adults and children included. Given the illicit nature of this crime, it is difficult to determine the exact number of human trafficking victims and estimates vary widely. Victims of human trafficking are not limited to only females, males are also very much targeted, and are from any country or ethnic background.