North Carolina was among the top 10 states with the highest number of human trafficking cases reported in the United States, according to a 2016 report by the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Female victims made up 83 percent of reported cases of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation in the state; 31 percent involved minors; and 29 percent involved foreign nationals who were not U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
These victims need “a place to restructure their lives and find true freedom in Christ,” said Sandra Johnson, founder of Triad Ladder of Hope in High Point. So, the nonprofit organization is taking steps toward offering a new resource for women rescued from sex trafficking: a safe house where they can begin the process of healing and restoration.
For 12 years Ladder of Hope has raised awareness locally about human trafficking.
The organization educates surrounding communities on how to recognize victims. The team also works directly with several human trafficking agencies, the National Human Trafficking Hotline, local law enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to help rescue victims and meet immediate and long-term needs.
Johnson, a mission service corps missionary with the North American Mission Board, said in an interview with the Biblical Recorder that Ladder of Hope has raised enough funds to purchase a house.
They are actively searching for property and a location that will meet their needs and provide safety and protection for rescued victims.
“We want a place that will help promote quiet for healing, as well as a place that allows the development of a family relationship with each other and us,” said Johnson.
The safe house will provide resources such as medical care, trauma counseling, job skills training and, if necessary, legal aid. Before Ladder of Hope can open the safe house to victims, they will need furniture and other household items, as well as supplies and a security system.
Johnson said monthly utility bills should resemble a typical household, including electricity, water, internet and food. “If you need it at your house, we will need it too,” she said.
When Ladder of Hope gives educational presentations at churches or organizations, staff members teach groups how to identify victims of trafficking. Common signs and red flags include lack of personal documentation, passport or visa; evidence of physical or psychological abuse; odd or long working hours; lack of knowledge of local community; and fear of law enforcement or local authority.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, traffickers often isolate victims from their families and ethnic and religious communities; threaten violence toward them and their families; and deceive them to believe they will be imprisoned or deported if they contact authorities.
Such tactics instill fear especially in victims who do not speak English and are from countries that fear corrupt law enforcement.
Ladder of Hope encourages people to call the Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline at (888) 373-7888 if they think they have encountered a victim. Johnson and her team often receive referrals and victims’ information from the hotline.
Johnson said, in addition to financial support, the Ladder of Hope staff needs prayer to continue to do their job effectively.
“Unless we are healing from our own personal trauma and growing in the Lord, we have no hope of having an effective part of the girls’ healing,” she said.
For more resources and information about human trafficking, or to make a donation, visit triadladderofhope.org. Donations or pledges may be specified for safe house maintenance and can be mailed to P.O. Box 3051, Salisbury, NC 28145 or P.O. Box 470, High Point, NC 27261.