She might be the lone young girl standing like a rock in a stream of teenagers flowing around her at the mall; or a waitress with cigarette burns and bruises; or a dancer in a club nice people avoid.
In America, where 300,000 young people each year are trapped as pawns in a seeping sex trade, chances are you have seen a girl who is economically and psychologically enslaved to a man who rents her out as income property — you just didn’t recognize it.
In Asheville, Emily Fitchpatrick took note of those young people around her and heeded a distinct call from God to begin “On Eagles Wings Ministries,” an organization whose goal is to find, befriend and rescue girls caught in human trafficking.
In an interview in her apartment with staff member Kim Kern and volunteer Dee Schronce, Fitchpatrick shared tragic stories and bewildering statistics about the prevalence of human trafficking in the United States.
The U.S. Department of Justice says the average entry age into prostitution is 12-14 and that often the child is prostituted by a drug addicted parent. They tell of police finding a 12-year-old in the back seat of a car with a john, while mom was in front with needle in her arm.
Experts say that within 48 hours of a teenager running away, she will be approached by a sharp eyed pimp, just about the time she is hungry and tired enough to be desperate for a “friend.”
These girls fall to the mercy of whoever finds them. There is no count of how many such girls never return home and die on the street because many of their families are consumed with their own problems, and the girl is never missed.
Beneath the floor boards these girls fall through is “a whole predatory arena waiting for them,” according to Schronce, who herself was embraced by predators when she fell through the cracks at age 17.
“Very few people will ever come out and talk about it,” said Schronce, author of a book about her experiences in human trafficking called Mary and Me: From Ruin to Royalty. She is talking now to bring awareness to the tragedy she sees all around her, but that is little discussed because too often people see trafficking as a victimless crime.
Police haul the girl to jail and tell the man to go home to his wife.
There are brothels everywhere, the On Eagles Wings team says. In Ohio a father found his runaway daughter a year later, in a brothel in the very neighborhood from which she’d run.
On Eagles Wings volunteers reach out to girls in North and South Carolina. Among other things, they take gift bags with bath and body products to strip club dancers.
“I can’t believe a Christian would come here and do this,” said one dancer when presented with a gift and a friendly smile. “Don’t you think I’m awful?”
Volunteers withhold judgment. Their goal is rescue.
A quarterly newsletter to juvenile detention centers is geared toward helping girls see themselves as victims and not just an unlucky soul who fell accidentally into a difficult life.
Often they see their pimps as boyfriends, as if the pimp actually cared about them.
One of the On Eagles Wings ministries is Hope House, a long-term residence in an undisclosed rural location near Asheville. Staff seeks a one-year commitment from girls who come there, a length of time necessary to “deprogram” girls from accepting their lives as objects. Tragically, girls who have been taught their personal worth is only sexual, often return to that life, even though it is filled with danger and pain.
“Hope House is faith based,” said its director, Kern. “There is no true healing without Jesus Christ. So that’s going to be the biggest part of the ministry.”
There is very limited space in the U.S. for sex trafficking victims, fewer than 50 beds for minors, according to Fitchpatrick. Of those, only Hope House is faith based.
So far their only fund raising has been prayer. They take no government grants so their faith basis can be out in the open and central to their work.
A surprise has been that every girl isn’t ready for rescue. One girl returned to her pimp in Florida, even though she was covered with cigarette burns.
Schronce said many girls are self-destructive beneath their careless attitude. They have a terrible self image and only find acceptance in the lie they’ve come to accept as their truth.
One girl, whom Fitchpatrick almost had been able to walk out of the life, told her she felt good on the street when she saw men in cars waiting for her. “They want me,” she told Fitchpatrick.
“That shows you how low they are, where they feel so worthless,” Fitchpatrick said.
In the U.S. as well as in most other parts of the world, poverty is at the root of human trafficking. Girls have no family support, little education, and no skills, “but I can do this,” Kern said. Their masters teach them to identify their self worth in the act, whether it is sex or dancing or pornography.
Organized crime finds sex trafficking profitable because unlike drugs or guns, you can sell a person many times. There are even published books on “How to pimp your girl.”
Some Buncombe Baptist Association churches are helping with specific needs. Fitchpatrick is available to inform groups about the presence of human trafficking in North Carolina. Contact her at www.emilyfitchpatrick.com.
Prayer, fasting weekend
On the weekend of Sept. 25-27 Stop Human Trafficking is sponsoring a weekend of prayer and fasting for victims of sexual trafficking.
Visit www.salvationarmy.org. Much of the initiative against human trafficking in the U.S. comes from the Salvation Army. At their web site you can find material for sermons, Bible studies, prayer guides and even music.
In at least 39 cities supporters will walk in support of Stop Child Trafficking Now.
Walks are scheduled in:
- Cary (Wake Med Soccer Park) — Sept. 27, 2 p.m.; e-mail [email protected]
- Chapel Hill (UNC Campus-Forest Theater) — Sept. 27, 2 p.m.; e-mail [email protected]
- Charlotte (location TBA) — Sept. 26 or 27; e-mail [email protected]
- Greensboro (Oak Ridge, Oak Ridge) — Sept. 26, 10 a.m.; e-mail [email protected]
- Greenville (Boyd Lee Park) — Oct. 3, 10 a.m.; e-mail [email protected]
Sex Trafficking Mini-Symposium
A special symposium on human trafficking-for the purposes of labor and especially sexual exploitation will be conducted by the Working Group for Research on (Sex) Trafficking from 2-5 p.m. Sept. 14 at the Tate-Turner-Kuralt Building Auditorium, Room 136 at UNC. The afternoon will feature formal papers, a poster session, and excerpts from “Machine,” a play-in-progress about trafficking. For more information, contact Pam Lach at [email protected].
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