We talk to a local nonprofit on their efforts to open a shelter to help young boys victimized through sex trafficking. The Greenville home would be the first of its kind in the country.
Slavery, its not just part of the past. 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery still exists in the form of coercing people into sexual servitude or industrial or agricultural work with little or no pay. North Carolina ranks 10th in the nation for its trafficking numbers. Nonprofits in eastern North Carolina are trying to prevent human trafficking from happening by raising awareness and calling on state legislators for stricter laws.
Restore One, an organization based in Greenville is helping teenage boys ages 12 to 17 by providing a safe place where they can receive long term restoration. Executive Director and Founder of Restore One Anna Smith says Wilmington, Greenville and Jacksonville are major hubs for trafficking in the eastern part of the state.
“Because we have a beautiful coastline, we attract people from all over the nation and also from all over the world, a huge tourist attraction. And unfortunately, when we have a large tourist population coming into our state, sometimes they come with the intent to buy sex.”
In addition to tourism, Smith says labor trafficking among the agricultural community is another problem here. Many of the Interstates such as I-85, US-64 and Highway 17 are used to transport victims through North Carolina. In sex-trafficking, victims are controlled by a third party member that could be a family member, a pimp or a friend that is absorbing the profit. Sarah Tellis is the executive director of The Pearl Ministry in New Bern, a nonprofit working to prevent human trafficking and restore victims. Tellis shares the story of a teenaged New Bern girl that almost fell prey to a traffickers deceptive methods last Fall.
“This young girl posted pictures on a social media website that made her vulnerable, actually approached by a man on the internet that appeared to want to become her boyfriend. That’s very common, very typical of what happens. We were actually able to intervene in this case and offer some education to the adults that were interacting with her. And this girl actually got away from her trafficker and he was made to leave the area.”
A common misconception is that trafficking involves only young girls, but boys are victims too. A growing number of young males in Greenville are involved not only in sex trafficking, but sexual exploitation.
“Boys are often tagged on to the end of a sentence, the end of a study or the end of a lecture saying oh, it happens to boys too.”
It’s hard to put a number on exactly many boys it affects because of their minor status, but last September, a former Boy Scout leader from Greenville was arrested and sentenced to six months in prison for two counts of third degree sexual exploitation of a minor. Also last year, a Bertie County man was charged with 50 counts of sexual exploitation of minors after his child pornography stash was discovered. Smith says sexual exploitation takes on many different faces.
“Say if you have a child that comes home from school, and their family does not have the means to provide them with food for dinner. And so, they have a man or a woman meet them in their community and say if you give me something as a sexual favor, I will buy you dinner. That is sexual exploitation.”
It’s a common problem not only for Greenville, but the entire country. Smith says an estimated 300,000 American youth are sexually exploited every day in the United States.
“And so what we found is that these boys are resulting to sexual exploitation to meet their needs. And so we’ve seen a growing number of boys are going into the sex trade because it’s starting from this very reason.”
When a female is rescued from sex trafficking, there are a number of organizations that can offer rehabilitation. However, there’s no place for male victims.
“I read a study not to long ago and it spoke of a sting operation that rescued both boys and girls who were sex trafficked in America. And six boys were rescued. There was a statement that said no services were available for these boys, there was no shelter placement for them, and they did not know what happened to the boys after the sting.”
Restore One in Greenville is hoping to change that around by opening The Anchor House, the nation’s first long term restorative home to adolescent boys.
“And so what we’ll do is provide everything that a boy would need, counseling, we’ll provide the education, life skills training, recreation. And so our hope is our shelter would be the first of many for boys.”
Smith says it’s likely male human trafficking victims from other states would receive care at Achor House. Next month, Restore One will launch its “Give for One” campaign that will raise money to buy a facility to house the boys. The organization is also in the process of lining up counselors and other staff members that will work with the boys when they arrive.
“and when they exit, it’s our job to make sure they are placed in a safe and stable environment that will continue to grow and foster the skills that they have learned, the skills that they had recovered while in our program.”
The Anchor House isn’t set to open until 2014. But Smith says they will continue to raise awareness about the issue. Restore One and The Pearl Ministry held a prayer vigil in Raleigh on Wednesday advocating a bill working its way through the House that would require convicted sex traffickers to register with the sex offender registry. It passed the Senate with a vote of 50 to 0 earlier this month. On Apirl 29th, both organizations will present to the General Assembly an appeal to continue to address the issue of human trafficking in North Carolina. Director of Pearl Ministry, Sarah Tellis.
“We’re hoping to bring this issue to light by showing the movie ‘Nefarious’ with them and by also having speakers that have experience in transforming laws in other states give their testimony about how North Carolina can improve their laws that are on the books now to fight against human trafficking.”
The local government is getting involved in combating human trafficking. Pitt County recently hired a full time detective thru a Department of Justice grant to investigate human trafficking cases that occur in the county.
“I think until we create a community that is intolerant to trafficking, then of course trafficking is going to take place. But when the community won’t tolerate it anymore, and gets behind these endeavors, then we will create an atmosphere that doesn’t allow for that to happen.”