By Josie Rabbitt
Because people can be sold over and over again every day, human trafficking is the third largest criminal enterprise in the world. Victims are often forced into prostitution and subjected to slavery and involuntary servitude. This growing pandemic is in every city and every town, across North America. However, the Baptist Friendship House is working daily to rescue trafficked victims. The Friendship House provides for their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. And most importantly, they give victims hope.
The Baptist Friendship House heroes picked a busy street to find girls who were in need. They saw Starr, scared and hungry. They fed and brought her to the Friendship House. She was immediately given medical attention. After Starr had showered and picked out some clothes, she rested. The trust was slowly building in Starr’s heart.
She opened up and shared her testimony.
Starr grew up in a rural area. She had a baby at an early age, lived with her mother, did not have transportation and was having trouble finding a job.
When Starr posted her struggles on social media, a trafficker read her information, saw she was vulnerable and knew exactly how to lure her in.
The trafficker lied. He told Starr he had a legitimate business and promised she could make a lot of money working for him. Starr left her little girl with her mom because the job was out of state. The trafficker introduced her to another group of girls he had. It was there, out of her comfort zone and away from her family, that the trafficker told Starr what he was really going to do with her. He told her about his escort service and how he would be placing an ad for her on social networking sites. He explained men would call and set an appointment with her. She would be forced to meet them in their hotel rooms.
Starr could probably have run at this point, but if she wanted to see her little 5-year-old daughter alive again, the trafficker told her she’d have to do what he said.
Starr was trafficked through five different states, before she met someone she trusted enough to tell part of her story to. She realized that without help, she was never going to see her family again. Starr’s trusted friend had seen a billboard with the Human Trafficking Hotline number. It’s written 888-373-7888 so it can easily be memorized. Starr called the number, and that’s when the Baptist Friendship House stepped in to get Starr back to her family safely.
The doorbell rang. Tammy, a 16-year-old girl, could barely stand in the entrance of the Baptist Friendship House. She hadn’t eaten or slept in three days and collapsed the minute she was invited in.
Tammy had been experiencing difficulties at home. She felt lonely, unseen and unheard, until she was befriended on social media. A trafficker had found her and learned about her weaknesses. He pretended to be Tammy’s boyfriend. The trafficker in disguise bought Tammy a bus ticket to New Orleans, met her at the station, took her to Bourbon Street and got her drunk.
The next morning, she awoke in an abandoned house, where multiple people were inducing her and others with drugs. They planned on selling the girls during a big event in the city later that day.
But Tammy happened to stumble across the Baptist Friendship House doorstep, looking for a bathroom. She was circling death but was given something to eat and some serious advice. Tammy’s heroes sat with her while she napped because she had been afraid to sleep alone. They arranged for a safe way to get her out of danger.
Tammy journeyed home with a backpack full of donated toiletry items, snack packs and Bibles from churches across North America.
Cara grew up in small, country town. Her family struggled with substance abuse, so, at a young age, Cara found herself struggling to survive. She believed she was a throwaway. Her vulnerability made her easy prey for a trafficker.
Cara was 18. The trafficker made Cara think she could make lots of money. He promised that she could buy a car and her own home. A home was all she wanted.
Yet, the trafficker didn’t follow through on the golden promises. There was no home. Instead, Cara and other girls were taken from city to city to be sold. They were on a circuit– hitting big events which made it harder for law enforcement to catch the trafficker.
When local law enforcement conducted a special operation, Cara was arrested for prostitution. A member of the Baptist Friendship House believed Cara was a survivor of human trafficking and asked to interview her to verify. Though Cara took all the blame, she eventually shared that her trafficker had told her what to say.
The rescuer gave Cara the Baptist Friendship House Google number—an untraceable number. Cara called it the next morning. She did not have a home to go back to. Cara had realized the trafficker had filled her head with lies.
While staying at the house, Cara learned a skill and found employment. She moved into her own apartment, which the Baptist Friendship House and many churches helped furnish for her. Cara could not believe there were no strings attached.
Today, Cara is grateful for her arrest. Without it, her life would not have changed.
Sometimes, all it takes is a sign from a hometown or village.
The phone at Baptist Friendship House rang. Two local women from church had come across a young, frightened Indonesian lady named Di.
“Can we bring her to Friendship House?” the women asked.
They brought Di, but she was terrified—not saying much at all. One staff member from Friendship House remembered a beautiful, Indonesian shawl given as a gift. Thinking it would bring Di some comfort and allow her to trust the Friendship House staff, she went and retrieved the scarf. It happened to be unique to Di’s village. Her face lit up as she recognized the scarf being from her village. Di smiled for the first time.
God was working.
Di shared how an education program in her country promised she could come to the United States and live the American dream. She could make lots of money, have a house, go to school and more. A certain hospitality organization in America supposedly sponsored her VISA to get her there.
Yet, the educational program and hospitality organization were highly organized trafficking rings.
When she arrived in the United States, she found out the truth about the organization. She was able to run away from her perpetrators without being killed. The Baptist Friendship House provided Di’s insider information to the National Human Trafficking Hotline and to law enforcement so they could shut the trafficking ring down.
Addie met a guy at school.
He was her friend for a year. Little did she know, he spent that year learning all about her.
He found out her weaknesses and her vulnerabilities. He gained her trust and was always around if she needed anything. Addie’s friend knew she had always wanted to visit New Orleans.
One October day, he told Addie of a friend who lived in New Orleans. He asked her to go with him to visit. He said they could go to Voodoo Fest. Addie excitedly agreed. However, when they arrived in New Orleans, Addie was sold to the friend.
The man was a trafficker.
Through threats and manipulation, he took her to a hotel and began advertising her on social networking sites. The manager of the hotel, where Addie was locked away, had been allowing one of Baptist Friendship House’s ministries to place soap bars in the rooms with the Human Trafficking Hotline number on it.
Addie was in a room with a soap bar. She saw the number on its wrapping and called for help. The Baptist Friendship House was able to get her to safety, meet her needs and take her back home to family.
Mirna and her daughter lived in a hotel, where Mirna worked many grueling hours as a housekeeper. Her employer charged her for the room where they stayed and paid her little to no salary.
A staff member of Friendship House befriended Mirna and her daughter and built trust with the family. The staff member eventually realized Mirna was being labor trafficked. The hotel manager had been threatening and manipulating Mirna into doing whatever he asked. Mirna had felt stuck with no way out.
The Friendship House took Mirna’s case to the immigration attorney to inform their office of Mirna’s situation. Eventually, Mirna and her daughter were able to leave the hotel and have their needs met through the Friendship House.
Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. The Baptist Friendship House has partnered with NAMB to help victims of this epidemic.