At least twice a year High Point triples in size with crowds numbering more than 80,000 people. On April 5, the city was flooded with participants in the weeklong Furniture Market.
This biannual market draws more people than any other event in North Carolina. Unfortunately, with any large crowd there comes the opportunity for anonymity, and sex traffickers are all too eager to take advantage. This event has also become one of the largest business opportunities in North Carolina for sex traffickers, and many of their victims are brought into the city during this time.
“Our Triad Ladder of Hope Team is small,” said Sandra Johnson, North American Mission Board missionary and president of Triad Ladder of Hope.
Sandra Johnson is president and founder of Triad Ladder of Hope.
Johnson has been working at the market for the past three years to fight against the trafficking industry. Triad Ladder of Hope is a faith-based, non-profit organization dedicated to the eradication of the exploitation, sale and enslavement of men, women and children. The organization works through four steps they believe are key to ending slavery in the Triad: awareness, rescue, restoration and re-entry.
Unfortunately, North Carolina is one of the states with the largest number of slaves trapped by human traffickers. In response to this tragic need, Triad Ladder of Hope has made their base in High Point.
In previous years, the organization passed out free water at the market with information on human trafficking and a national hotline number. This year, they changed their tactic and targeted the hotels by putting soaps with the national hotline number on them in each hotel room.
“We took on a God-sized project with faith that with God we could make it happen,” Johnson said. “This side of heaven we will probably never know how many soaps got into the hands of victims. If one sex trafficking victim was rescued because she found the soap in the bathroom it will be worth all the work we did.”
Several local churches, youth groups and Woman’s Missionary Union members joined in to help with Glenn View Baptist Church. More than 150 hotels were targeted throughout Winston-Salem, High Point, Greensboro, Archdale, Thomasville and Kernersville. Hotel managers were given pictures of missing N.C. children and alerted that those children could come to their hotel. They also received a packet of information to educate them on the reality of human trafficking.
After six months of planning and preparation, almost 4,000 soaps had been labeled and placed in hotels.
“Most trafficking victims are allowed to go to the bathroom by themselves,” said a Glenn View member. “We just pray that some of them will find that soap with a phone number they can call for help.
“People wonder why girls caught in trafficking don’t just leave. But most victims are trapped by fear. Traffickers start by threatening them and then their families.”
Human trafficking is one form of modern-day slavery. It is the fastest-growing crime in the world and the second most common crime in the United States. More people are living in slavery today than ever before in history.
According to The Global Slavery Index, an estimated 30 million people are living as slaves worldwide, and many are in the U.S.
Large events like the Furniture Market give people opportunities to join together and make a concentrated effort to help unfortunate individuals victimized by trafficking. Just one week after the April market, police reported 40 people across N.C. had been arrested for human trafficking, with 30 of those arrests made in Winston-Salem.
“The majority of people still don’t realize the number of victims who are trapped in human trafficking and the variety of ways it happens, whether it’s labor or sex trafficking,” said the Glenn View church member.
“Even in our high schools there are girls trapped. Most people don’t realize how bad of a problem this is. We as churches need to know it is a problem. It is real. It’s in our cities, and we need to do something to stop it.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Emily Blake is an editorial aide for the Biblical Recorder.)