“A community unaware of the problem will not be a part of the solution. Let’s change that together.” - Present Age Ministries
Each month, SHARE offers a #SpotlightOnCLT series highlighting important causes, showcasing the local nonprofits who are doing the good work for the cause, and sharing how you can get involved. This month, we’re highlighting Human Trafficking. It’s a difficult subject, but one we think you’ll want to hear about, especially what is happening right here in our neighborhoods.
What is it?
Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide – including right here in the United States. It can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality. Traffickers might use the following methods to lure victims into trafficking situations:
- False promises of well-paying jobs
- Romantic relationships
We chatted with Present Age Ministries, one of our nonprofit partners, to learn more about this critical endeavor. We hope you’ll take the time to read these fast facts, and head over to our blog for an even deeper dive. Inside our full story, we’ll be sharing about 5 nonprofits who work in this sector, and we’ll share some deeply impactful stories about local neighbors they have helped.
Fast facts and Common Myths about trafficking in our community from Present Age Ministries:
- It's not kidnappings! Out of the 400+ clients we have worked with, NONE of them originated with kidnapping. The perpetrator encountered them first and usually attempted to build some type of relationship or lured them into going "willingly". Meeting basic physical and emotional needs is a method of recruitment commonly used by traffickers.
- Recruitment: This has drastically shifted to online encounters. Especially since Covid, we all isolated and moved online. In-person recruitment for a trafficker may have been limited to one or two at a time, but in the digital world we can connect with countless people at a time. It seems like it would have to be complex, but reality is that it usually just starts with attention, finding the vulnerability or need (which is usually posted on social media already) and then meeting the need to build loyalty, then transitioning to exploiting that need.
- Previous abuse: National Statistics say that 70-90% of victims of trafficking have a history of sexual abuse. We see about 68% of our clients DISCLOSE this, but only a handful of our clients that we have worked with over the years don't have this in their history. Our other top 2 vulnerabilities (yes, we track them as we get to know the clients) are parent separation and emotional neglect. The trafficker is able to identify a need or a gap and exploit it.
- Current state of trafficking in our community:
- Present Age has had a 70% increase in their For The One program where they provide wrap-around services to those identified as sex trafficked.
- This does seem to be increasing, but so is their awareness as a community and ability to accurately identify these individuals.
- They hold the Vice Chair position on the Charlotte Metro Human Trafficking Task Force, and in January released a 3-year data report showing the demographics of the 170 identified minors in Meck County.
- During the report timeframe, the average age of victimization was 14.5 years old. West Coast Children's Clinic in California reports that "For nearly three-quarters of all clients, exploitation has been intermittent or ongoing for two or more years." (West Coast Children's Clinic, 20212) . This data is what we see at Present Age as well.
- Of the 170 unique minors identified in the report of Mecklenburg County, 64% were 15 years old or younger
- There is also a map that shows the 40 zip codes in Meck county that are impacted, and the 5 zip codes with highest impact are : 28269, 28208, 28213, 28216 and 28212.
How Can You Help?
- If you want to report a situation of suspected trafficking or exploitation, you can reach out to the Human Trafficking Hotline.
- If pictures or videos of sexual content have been shared without permission or are of a minor, contact CyberTip Report or Take It Down (ncmec.org).
- Want to help Present Age Ministries? They’re looking for:
- Volunteer Transportation Drivers
- Volunteer Mentors
- Professional Counselors
- Prevention Small Group Facilitators
- Gift cards for gas or food (restaurants or grocery) - the families of our clients have diverse needs including fuel to get the girls to service appointments, and sometimes are nutritionally insecure in the home and gift cards can help provide meals
A local guide to those doing the work, below:
- BraveWorks - learn more and meet Sheila
- Present Age Ministries - learn more and meet Abigail
- A21 - learn more and sign up for their Walk for Freedom
- Compassion to Act - learn more and sign up to volunteer
- Dahlia Grove - learn more and meet one of their survivors
Women overcoming trafficking and trauma need access to healing communities and robust opportunities in order to move forward. At BraveWorks, they help women heal from past trauma through mentoring and coaching, while also offering opportunities for economic advancement through purposeful work. The women in their program emerge confident and brave, ready to live abundant and purposeful lives as confident contributors to society. They graduate from BraveWorks’ program in 3-6 months, equipped with resources and a diverse community of support so they can have a bright future.
Meet Sheila: "Sheila came to BraveWorks in the spring of 2021. She was referred to the program by one of our community partners, Lily Pad Haven (now a part of Hope for Justice). Sheila recalls being verbally, physically, and emotionally abused by her mother. She remembers feeling very lonely while growing up. Sheila left home at the age of 14 years old, had her first child at 18, and dealt with an unfaithful and abusive boyfriend. During her early twenties Sheila decided to take her children and leave her boyfriend. Sheila describes this time as the period in her life where she began to spiral downhill. She lost her full-time job and was struggling to pay the rent and buy food for the children. Sheila was introduced to work as a stripper/dancer, prostitution, fast “good” money, and drugs. The boyfriend tracked her down, threatened her at gunpoint and took the children.
Sheila spent over 20 years battling drug use/abuse, prostitution, and homelessness. She would pull herself up and out of the self-destructing behaviors with the support of family and substance rehab programs, only to relapse back to homelessness, drug abuse and prostitution again. In 2020, Sheila was tired of “hustling” and once again entered rehab where she completed a 6-month program. Although she was filled with self-doubt, she returned to Lily Pad Haven, who referred her to BraveWorks.
Sheila immediately began to build community with the other women in the program, staff, and volunteers at BraveWorks. Sheila says our program 'taught me about self-love, to keep moving forward, don’t look back and that I can help someone else”. During her time with BraveWorks, Sheila found her voice and began to recognize her power and self-worth. She was able to maintain her sobriety, pay off outstanding student loans so that she could return to school, and found her voice. Today, Sheila is housed, managing her finances, celebrating 19 months sober, enrolled in classes at CPCC and accepted into a collaborative program with CPCC/ UNCC to study for a degree in Social Work. She is also a member of our Alumni program. Sheila has emerged from our program confident and brave, equipped with the resources she needs to maintain her goals and continue to live an abundant and purposeful life. We are so proud of her!"
Photo: BraveWorks' artisans gather to celebrate their accomplishments while in the program.
A21 is a global counter-trafficking organization with a local impact. Locally in Charlotte, NC, they are seeking to assist survivors of all ages, nationalities, races, ethnicities, and gender identities with the goals they have for their future. This can be challenging at times due to barriers like a lack of language capability in the community and a decrease in opportunities for upward mobility, however, we continue to build strong partnerships in the Charlotte area to make the impossible possible!
A21's mission is to end modern-day slavery everywhere, forever. This is a big undertaking but we believe it is possible through their Reach, Rescue, and Restore programs. In Reach, they use education, awareness, and prevention programs to reach those both at-risk or not in the community to stop trafficking before it starts. With Rescue, they work alongside frontline professionals in government and non-government organizations to assist with the identification process and provide legal assistance, coordination, and other services to survivors as they leave a trafficking situation. Lastly, our Restore program is for survivors who leave their trafficking situation and decide they would like to build community, work with a caseworker, and focus on the goals they've set for themselves. They use a community model to connect survivors with resources in their respective communities that they can utilize well after deciding their time with A21 is finished.
The Impact: Since being in the Charlotte area since 2016, they have had 178 survivors of human trafficking enter their Restore Program and assisted them with things like case management, A21 Life Programs, housing, legal assistance coordination, basic needs, and much more!
Event: Walk for Freedom - It's a day of global awareness and local action in the fight against human trafficking. Thousands of people hit the streets in hundreds of cities worldwide to walk in a single file line–holding posters and handing out flyers–to reach their city with information about human trafficking and how to end it. Every step reduces vulnerability locally, empowering your neighbors, friends, and community to identify and report trafficking suspicions.
“There are more slaves today than ever before in history. The rate of those finding themselves in human trafficking is increasing by the day. Human trafficking affects every part of society. Trafficking does not discriminate. In these polarized times, we need the community to come together to solve this growing problem in our city. Everyone can do something.” - Compassion to Act
Get Involved: Compassion to Act is looking to open an aftercare program this year for women coming out of this life. They desperately need resources such as funding and volunteers to be part of the solution.
The Impact: They have helped many women across the US, providing tangible needs — including: housing, car repairs, home repairs, healing, education, counseling, being a birth coach, and restoring families.
Photo: Outreach team sharing love to our city.
Dedicated to empowering and employing survivors of human trafficking, domestic violence and addiction. Dahlia Grove does this by providing a two year rent free restorative care home where survivors are given the time and resources for healing. During this time, they receive Addiction Recovery Treatment, Sexual Trauma Counseling, Financial Literacy Training, Computer literacy, nutrition and wellness, personal and professional development, continued education, job training and a job at a living wage in our social enterprise of catering/food service and our manufacturing facility.
They are a sister organization to Thistle Farms in Nashville TN and we follow their proven program with 25 years of experience with proven best practices. Dahlia Grove, like Thistle Farms, believes that Love is the most powerful force for change in the world. There is nothing like this program in Charlotte. They have a home with 8 beds and hope to have a cafe open to the public by the fall of 2023.
Meet one of their survivors: “We had a young lady come to us in 2019 when we first opened. She was very quiet. She wouldn't look you in the eye, couldn't read and seldom talked. After several months of sitting in our morning meditation circle and never entering into the discussion, she said, "I want to share." Shocked, I simply said, "ok!" She proceeded to say: "I don't know how to explain it but I feel like I've been homesick my entire life for a place I didn't know existed and I feel like I am finally home!" This young lady ended up graduating our program with a job, secure in utilizing the bus system, reading on a 7th grade level and with a healthy nest egg in the bank! She has entered into the 4th phase of our program: A sister for life!!! Love is the greatest force for change in the world and she is our family"
Get Involved: Their Third Annual Golf Challenge is scheduled for May 22. Their goal is to raise $90,000 this year to further the mission of Dahlia Grove.
Photo: We are a community of neighbors, volunteers, and community providers based on love.
Present Age Ministries is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization committed to combating the sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking of teen girls. They equip communities to identify at-risk teen girls through prevention and awareness education and to support survivors through holistic, individualized care.
There are many myths in our local community about how Human Trafficking is happening. Stay up to date on accurate information by attending a General Awareness event. Watch their social media upcoming events around the community or reach out to them to schedule something!
Meet Abigail: "We first met Abigail a couple of years ago when she was 14 years-old. Shortly after, she joined the Present Age family and began receiving survivor support services. “When I first met her, she was so sweet, but it was clear that she had been hurt before. She was far more reserved and, as a result of the trauma she had experienced, she was making self-destructive decisions. She probably would not have made it, had she continued down the path she was on,” a Present Age staff member close to Abigail said. However, God had different plans for Abigail, plans to grow, strengthen, and heal her.
As Abigail journeyed through our survivor support program, we saw God cultivate and grow her confidence in herself and her dreams. “Before, she was just trying to get by, but now, she actually understands that she has so much more potential than she ever knew before. She has given herself permission to want more for herself and to dream of things she once believed were impossible,” a Present Age staff member said. Throughout her experience with Present Age, we not only witnessed Abigail establish goals for herself, but we saw her chase after those goals and accomplish things that she did not think she was capable of.
One of those goals was to become a photographer. During her time in our survivor support program, Abigail developed a deep love for photography. She especially loves taking photos of people and flowers. However, because she did not have a camera, she simply took pictures with her phone.
Upon graduating from our survivor support program, we were thrilled to present Abigail with her very own professional Nikon camera. She responded by saying the following: "I will never be able to express my love and appreciation for you all in words, for it is way too much for the English dictionary to handle. Thank you, thank you, thank you for everything! Not just the materialistic things you have given me, but the things I will carry with me for the rest of my life: the importance of self-love, forgiveness, compassion, gratitude, and so much more. Thank you for all the little things that you have done for me over the years like taking me to coffee and simply listening to me when I needed to talk. I will be forever grateful for everything you have done to help me get back on my feet after I got knocked down by this cruel world. You have shown me that this world can be beautiful, and that it’s not all bad. Because of this you all will always hold a special place in my heart.”
Photo: We exist to rebuild trust, restore hope, and redefine love for minors that have overcome trafficking situations.