The ministry, formerly known as Pearl Ministries, held a fundraising “Freedom Friday Dinner Theater,” which included dinner, a panel and film at Temple Baptist Church from 5 to 9 p.m.
The film was the documentary “Nefarious: Merchant of Souls,” which focuses on a presentation of trafficking worldwide.
The panel was emceed by Doc Loomis, a member of the TJF board and also a bishop in the Anglican Church. Speakers were TJF director Sarah Tellis; Chip Hughes, a member of the governor’s crime commission; two TJF missionaries serving in Charleston, and Kelly McPherson, a trafficking activist whose sister escaped trafficking.
Tellis spoke of the ministry’s name change and its purpose. She said where TJI focuses a lot of its work locally, it also is concerned with trafficking as a world problem.
“You can’t just isolate one thing that is happening here in Craven County without involving the world,” she said.
This is in part because so many victims of sex trafficking are brought in from outside areas. She spoke of one North Carolina victim she has been working with who came from Mexico as an example. “Fifty percent of victims are international,” she said.
Victims are often runaways, troubled youth, orphans or children in the foster system. Traffickers will often lure them by offering them a home, flattery and support, and will slowly draw entrap them through addictions, threat or guilt.
Tellis emphasized the ministry’s goal toward empowering the Church to help victims of trafficking, and of training organizations and law enforcement organizations to know the signs and learn how to fight trafficking.
Chip Hughes expressed Gov. Pat McCrory’s concern over trafficking problems in the state.
“We’ve got a huge problem here in North Carolina,” he said, adding that the state has only recently begun to deal with it. “A year ago we were not doing that much about it from a law enforcement standpoint.”
He recalled a time when he was a state trooper, when he pulled over a probable trafficker and his victims but, because of his lack of training, he only knows what the situation was in hindsight.
“The driver was the only one that would converse,” he said. The young women in the van “would not make eye contact or respond to my questions. I know now that all the indicators were there: these ladies were there and they were not there by choice.”
“We need to educate our law enforcement on what to look for,” he said. “Then we know how to make an arrest and get evidence together so we can take these into the courts.”
He said that funding is being arranged to educate and help investigate these crimes.
He emphasized that parents need to teach their children how to be on the lookout to avoid becoming victims.
McPherson described some of her sister’s battles with trafficking.
“There was at one point, I thought it happened in Third World countries, I didn’t think it was here,” she said, until her own sister was pulled into it.
Her sister, Stacey, had been thrown out of an abusive house when she was just 14 and soon got caught up with a trafficker.
“She shared that there were times her abusers had locked her in a closet, naked without food for a month,” McPherson related. “The only reason they took her out was to rape her. And that happened for years. She allowed them to think she was brainwashed and, in short trips she was allowed, she scraped up money to make a phone call, called her father who picked her up. She is now getting her bachelor in nursing and is married to a police officer.
“It’s not what you see in the movies,” McPherson said of how women get caught up in trafficking. “It’s not always prostitution. It’s not always strippers. It can happen to the girl next door.””
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