Ruth Jacobs interviews STOP’s web content manager on his heart for the enslaved

Original interview on Ruth Jacob’s blog

Ruth Jacobs interviewed STOP’s web and social media manager, Servaas Hofmeyr, on what drives him to speak out on behalf of the voiceless.

How did you become involved in the movement against human trafficking? 

While busy studying in 2008, I browsed around the web (as one does) and came across an article discussing the effects criminalisation and, alternatively, legalisation of prostitution has had in various countries. I was quite shocked to learn what conditions most of the prostituted women found themselves in – varying from being drug addicts, to suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, to being victims of regular abuse by both their pimps and clients.

Prostitution, of course, is only one channel through which trafficking occurs but as I browsed further I came across a short video clip produced by the A21 Campaign, in which the organisation’s founder, Christine Caine, explained how she first came to the knowledge of this worldwide injustice of slavery. What she was saying in that video touched something inside of me and led me to educate myself further on the issue of trafficking itself and also on various other issues creating a culture in which a demand for slaves exist…

…for the rest of this interview continue reading it on Ruth’s blog

 

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SA Government to toughen up against Human Trafficking

Original post: SABC.co.za, Monday 3 December 2012 07:54

Human trafficking has become prevalent in South Africa and the Department of Justice is looking at putting in place legislation that will tackle the rising trend in the country.

The Justice department looks into passing legislation addressing Human Trafficking

The Department of Justice’s Kamogelo Makubu-Wildred says the absence of such a legislation has made it possible for this kind of activity to manifest and thrive in most parts of the country, namely Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Gauteng with Free State having a highest number of prosecuted cases of human trafficking.

Makubu-Wildred says she does not know when the Bill will eventually be passed, but is hopeful that Law makers and Parliamentarians are working very hard on the matter.  Edited By Molebogeng Sebidi

Click here for Makubu-Wildred’s interview (Human trafficking) on Morning Live

 
 
Original article

Do Not Use the Slave Word…when referring to prostitution?

On today, 18 October 2012, it is Anti-Slavery Day in the UK and Anti-Trafficking Day in the EU yet prostitutes are often still not regarded as slaves and thus not supported in the same way governments support those ‘worthy’ to be called slaves.

Rebecca, a former slave from the UK shares her thoughts…

Today it has been decided it the Day of the Slave.

Only unless it is framed as violent external sadistic trafficking can the prostituted class be named as slaves, and even then it made that it cannot be real slavery to be inside the sex trade.

My heart is broken at this dismissal, and the choice that so many with power and privilege make to say prostitution cannot be slavery.

Even when looked at with a clear all forms of prostitution are in the conditions of slavery.

The conditions of slavery is be made nothing but goods that is used and tossed away.

All prostitutes are in that condition. All prostitutes are not viewed as humans or women/girls – they are sex goods.

To be a sex good, is to know you are nothing but holes for men to f-ck, nothing but a mouth to be stuffed or speak words for his ego, nothing but an image his has remembered from porn and now can screw into silence.

That is the condition of the slave.

Only, there are voices of denial.

Prostitutes can never be slaves – they are paid or receive gifts. It is just a business exchange of equal partners.

I feel my heart exploding with rage.

https://i2.wp.com/socialmediainfluence.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Facebook-is-being-used-to-illustrate-the-very-real-issue-of-modern-slavery.jpg

original image

Yes, prostitutes are paid – many who do indoors prostitution are paid a lot of money and given loads of valuable stuff.

But does that mean the prostitute has the basic human right to be free from violence, to have the basic human right to have freedom of movement, to have the basic human right to her own sexuality, the basic human right to freedom of expression without control or threat/reality of violence?

Slavery has always manipulated the slave-class by having many layers of what a slave – say to be closed to power or working in the cells below the power.

The mental violence of slavery is how the slave-owners use this divide and rule to control those with no power and no voices.

The divisions made between trafficking and “freely chosen” prostitution, between under-aged prostitutes and the prostitutes who is a woman, between street-based prostitutes and escorts – and the endless other divisions placed onto the prostituted class are designed to silence the prostituted.

It is used every day, to prevent a prostitute from naming that she is being raped, she is being sexually tortured, and that she is constant fear of her life.

When it is framed as her choice, as work she is doing, that she is lucky not to be doing worse aspects of prostitution – how is it possible for a prostitute to find a voice for her grief, her fear and her utter confusion.

In prostitution, the slave-owners are winning by brainwashing so many prostitutes that they are the Happy Hooker – hell, they are empowered, they choose the whore lifestyle, they are better than other women.

This mind-set is so ingrained, especially with women doing indoors prostitution – that to survive the normal violence, hate and degradation that is prostitution, it becomes important to block out reality and live in a fantasy.

This is the condition of the slave who has no access to hope, or belief that anyone cares whether she is alive or dead.

I was sexually tortured as my norm – but I made my mind block the fear, block the pain, and to block that I hated it.

No, I lived in the world of fiction. A world where I could only hear words where punters/profiteers pretended to see me as a human, only feel it was “normal” sex and forget how near I was to death, only came to believe I must want this pain why else was I there.

A slave cannot see clearly the power dynamics controlling her, when she is just keeping her head above the water.

The horror of trauma after prostitution is knowing how all prostitutes have no power or human rights – and totally controlled by punters and sex profiteers.

Trauma is impounded when seeing and knowing that to be a prostitute is be a slave – to  be goods, to be voiceless, to have no past or future just the role given to you, to be throwaway trash.

If that is not slavery, then I do not understand what slavery is?

Original articel by Rebecca  Do Not Use the Slave Word

Also in the news: Anti-Slavery Day: One victim of child sex trafficking is one too many via The Independent

WORST OF BOTH WORLDS – Human Trafficking stage play in the Baxter

Witty slice of the human meat market

July 31 2012 at 09:32am
By Helen Herimbi


TO WOW1

Worst Of Both Worlds

DIRECTOR: Bulelani Mabutyana

CAST: Thando Suselo and Lubabalo Nontwana

VENUE: Golden Arrow Studio inside the Baxter Theatre

UNTIL: August 4

RATING: ****

When the grass on the other side is just about as brown as the side you’re on. Written and directed by Bulelani Mabutyana, this play was named the Best of Zabalaza at this year’s annual Baxter Theatre festival. And it’s clear to see why. Bringing the worldwide issue of human trafficking a lot closer to home, Worst of Both Worlds uses a story that is so relatable it could be anyone’s really.

In the beginning, Pinkie Stofile is a child from Khayelitsha who has a sweet tooth and a soft spot for a song her mother taught her. By the end, Pinkie is a woman whose taste of life abroad brought an even bigger urge to hold on to something more than a song that reminds her of her mother.

When she’s just a little girl, Pinkie is lured into a car by her school principal, an authority figure with a pocket full of lekkers, more formally known as sweets.

She becomes a victim of child trafficking and becomes a tiny drop in an ocean of prostitution that makes supply and demand its ebb and flow.

There is never a shortage of demand, so the supply keeps coming. From all over the world, there are girls and women who are never to be seen again by their loved ones. As Papa Joe – the modern day slave master and pimp – practically spits at Pinkie, “your mother is in Africa, you will never see her again”.

But Pinkie does get to go back to the Motherland, even though she doesn’t find what she’d been looking for. After growing up on the streets of New York and getting her education through the hard-knock school of the sex industry, she decides she is fed up with “cold people and cold conversations”.

Her confidant and fellow slave, Ada, is tired of being offered crack as payment for her services when what she really wants is money or freedom, whichever comes first.

The friends hatch a plan to free themselves of Papa Joe and this makeshift family and Pinkie winds up back in Khayelitsha. But, naturally, she doesn’t have much luck with finding a legitimate job and is hoodwinked and abducted once more. Now a sex slave in her own country, Pinkie realises she may have thought life abroad was worse, but it’s the same as being at home.

Interestingly, Pinkie is not played by a woman. In fact, all the characters are acted by two spell-binding young men. Performing in English and Xhosa, Suselo and Nontwana take turns playing Pinkie, prostitutes, policemen and pamphlet slingers with panache.

They use an almost bare set to its maximum potential and in many ways, it lends itself to the metaphor of being stripped of your home, past and identity and having to make do with the little you have that runs through the story. How arm wrestling becomes symbolic of rape and physical violence is very clever and arrests the emotions.

The rectangular table in the middle of the stage and the black chair towards the edge take turns becoming a car, a news anchor’s desk, an interrogation space and a window.

The actors use their bodies in swift, seamless moves to interact with these make-believe objects and each other. It’s so fluid that it’s a pleasure to be transported wholly into New York City and Khayelitsha, respectively.

Through deliberate lighting, red is the primary colour that is used to signify danger, a memory (picture the red in a photographic dark-room) and a change of scenery. Suselo and Nontwana even wear red pants and red T-shirts through-out the play.

I enjoyed that there were no blurred lines or grey areas here and with their backs to the audience, we followed the actors into unknown territory with their towering shadows on the wall in front of them telling the story.

Human trafficking is handled in an edu-tainment sense that is laid out in simple, visual terms. The audience left questioning how they themselves can be more vigilant and help end this sadistic trade.

While the play was great, it wasn’t perfect. Perhaps, owing to the fact that it wasn’t a full house, the actors sometimes hammed up some of the camp characters to get bigger laughs.

Also, the 55-minute-long play feels uneven towards the end because there is what feels like a premature conclusion of events before Pinkie’s great escape home.

These, however, are problems that could be solved with time.

Original article on iol.co.za

Confessions of a Retoucher

Objectification of women through the media plays a major role in how they are viewed by men and also how women view and value themselves. One such retoucher shares some of the ins and outs of the media industry’s representation of people and the effect it has on women in particular.

via gemmaruthwilson{dot}com

                                                                                     Photo credit: BeautyRedefined.net

This week, I tweeted a link to The Photoshop Hall of Shame which caused some interesting discussion amongst my friendship group about how important it is that people know images are retouched, how our minds can process them knowing this, how to NOT buy into the media machine that tells us we aren’t good enough. I then came across something shocking: a “photographer’s best friend” (a digital retoucher) who decided less than 2 months ago to quit his job and call for reform in the industry. Here is a video of him explaining what happened, and an accompanying letter. WOW.

My name is Roy A. Cui and I live and work in Los Angeles, California. You may be familiar with my work. I have worked on many clothing and beauty advertising campaigns. I’ve worked on covers and editorial spreads for popular magazines that you see in the grocery store. You’ve probably even seen my handiwork on the billboards or bus stops you pass by on your way to work. You may have even seen my work in well-known art galleries in Los Angeles, New York, and Europe.

If you’re thinking that I’m a photographer, I’m not. I’m a photographer’s best friend. My pseudonym isEyeConArtist: I con the eye, and my tagline is “making the unreal appear real.” My chosen profession is being a digital retoucher. I’m a part of the media machine that has suckered you into thinking that you need to look like this flawless person who does not exist anywhere in the world. You then feel unhappy with how you really look, so you buy the products that the person of perfection is using in the image that I retouched.

I didn’t enter this profession with the intention of deceiving people. My first passion was photography and I worked as an assistant to many Los Angeles based photographers in the early 90’s. Then I was introduced to the “magic” of Photoshop and I was in awe of the endless possibilities that Photoshop offered.

When I started out as a retoucher, photographers made every effort to make sure they had near flawless sets, models, apparel, makeup, and products. They shot their images with film, which were scanned and then retouched. If the images needed digital retouching, it was extremely expensive and only large companies could afford to have it done. If small commercial companies needed retouching back then, it was minimal.

Today, with photographic technology where it is, it’s not just the major campaigns that have retouching done. It’s every image produced for public consumption that is retouched, whether it’s a model, a bar of soap or even a dog. EVERY image used in advertising is retouched.

It’s standard for me to thin and elongate legs, thin down the waist and arms, remove any bulging flesh, remove wrinkles, bags under the eyes, blemishes, freckles, tattoos, fix a lazy eye, remove or minimize creases where there should be creases, like the underarm or the neck. As more and more has been asked of me technology made it easier to do more in less time, I never questioned the ethics of what I was being asked to manipulate.

It never occurred to me that what I was doing was causing anyone any harm. Everyone knows everything is retouched right? If they don’t, it’s not that big of a deal. We take everything we see with a grain of salt, right? It didn’t cross my mind until about ten years ago when I was out with a friend at a popular apparel store. The store had several images of their product all over the store that I had worked on. I mentioned this to the young woman that was helping us and she looked at me in disbelief and wanted to know what was done on the images. I pointed at one image and explained that I had cleaned up every square inch of that model’s skin, brought in the bulges from where the bra and panties were tight on her hips, torso and shoulders, thinned down the sides of her body to give her a smooth hourglass look, and even changed the color of some of the garments. She was horrified. She told me that she had no idea and that she came to work everyday thinking that something was wrong with her because she didn’t look like the girls modeling the clothes in the pictures. I told her that everything that she sees in print media has been retouched, especially women in ANY ad, and reassured her that she looked fine…the MODELS don’t even look like that.

She was only one person. How many other women feel that way when they look at the images I’ve had a hand at retouching? Maybe those thoughts filled my head that day, but I had more important things to focus on like making living with what I know how to do, retouching… What was pressing me to keep going: Feeding and clothing my two sons and daughter.

My daughter is 11 now. She’s old enough to internalize what she sees. I think she’s beautiful inside and out and I’d hate to think I had anything to do with making her dislike herself. So, I tell her about how retouching is used in every printed image she sees and even show her before and after’s of files I’ve worked on, because I’m on the inside. But what about all those other girls, young women and ladies that have no clue as to how the images they see affect them? I’ve felt, for years, that I should do something about it.

These thoughts of needing to spread the truth have haunted me and grown greater with every passing year. It all came boiling to the surface after seeing the screening of Miss Representation at the California Endowment on May 17, 2012. Periodically during the movie there were images flashing on the screen that were taken from print ads to show examples of how women are being negatively portrayed in media. Then one of the covers that I retouched popped up in the movie and a lightning bolt of anxiety shot through me.

During the Q&A after the screening I mustered up the courage to go up and ask the director, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, how I could help turn things around, stop being a part of how the media portrays women, and maybe still be able to make a living. She was so impressed by me coming forward to start being part of the change that I decided to get my story out, risking career suicide, just to try and do my part to change the culture.

Which leads me to here, my first video blog. Now that I’ve decided to make this change, I don’t know what happens next. I’m scared, but I know it’s the right thing to do. I don’t know where, when, or how, but I need to find a way to use my talents in a positive and constructive way.

Hopefully my story can help women understand how they are being manipulated and maybe even get magazines, photographers, art directors, ad agencies AND their clients to realize what they are doing to the women of the world.

So, please help me support MissRepresentation.org to get magazines to have ONE UNretouched image of a model printed per publication for this summer.

Thanks for listening to my story and stay tuned to see how this turns out for me.

®y

Standing up for sex workers is standing up for pimps

by Caroline Norma, 19 June 2012, for The Age

 

Prostitutes are not sex workers, they are prostituted women.

ELITE academics in Australia love to profess their support for ”sex workers”. University of New South Wales academic Catharine Lumby in ”Sex is not dirty work” on these pages pleaded for the media to treat sex workers with more respect, given that prostitution is a legal form of employment in Australia.

Lumby recalls telling her sons over the dinner table to not make jokes about women their friends call ”prosties”, and to remember that feminists and Christians could be condemned for failing to properly recognise prostitution as work.

Illustration: Matt Davidson.

Illustration by Matt Davidson

This idea of prostitution conveyed to the two Lumby juniors is unmistakably a liberal one. In this framing, prostitution is embarked upon by individual women as something akin to a small-business enterprise (women in brothels in Australia are legally recognised as sub-contractors, not employees). While ”sex workers” might be at the bottom rung of the social ladder in terms of education, prior victimisation, social networks, and personal asset bases, liberals see them as admirable for attempting to improve their circumstance, and possibly give their kids a better chance in life.

Advertisement: Story continues below

In conveying this idea of prostitution, Lumby teaches her sons to be nice to ”sex workers”, which is indubitably a charitable thing for an elite academic to do.

However, in framing prostitution as a benign form of ”work”, Lumby also disenables her sons taking social and political measures against the sex industry and its customers as perpetrators of serious and widespread harm against women in Australia.

There now exists a mountain of empirical research, not only from feminist social scientists, but also from psychologists, clinicians, nurses, anthropologists and economists, of the harms of prostitution for women. These harms include post-traumatic stress disorder, genital and other physical injuries, pregnancy, depression and anxiety, and social isolation.

It has been known since the late 1970s that a major precursor of women’s entry into prostitution is childhood sexual abuse. There is also empirical evidence of the damage to women’s social status, and the negative impact on women’s connection to local community, of the sex industry.

Overwhelmingly, the social science and health literature condemns prostitution as a source of harm to women, as well as children.

For liberals to successfully frame prostitution as ”work”, rather than commercially mediated sexual abuse, they must close their eyes to this evidence. They must also avoid encountering most women in prostitution – even the most conservative demographic studies of this population find that half would leave the sex industry if they could. And they must overlook the good results that governments in Sweden, South Korea, Norway and Iceland have achieved in declaring prostitution a violation of gender equality, and criminalising the sex industry and its customers.

Most significantly, though, liberals must avoid mentioning pimps, traffickers, and sex industry customers in making their argument that prostitution is a legitimate form of work for poor women. Lumby doesn’t breathe a word of the profit-making activities of pimps in Australia, nor the acts perpetrated by sex industry customers who buy women in half-hour blocks. She fails to tell her sons about the strategies of violence, debt and intimidation that pimps use to keep women in prostitution, and to make sure they service customers with a smile.

She also omits to mention the kinds of sex acts customers do to women in prostitution, and the misogynistic abuse and brutality that women face when they’re dispatched to the hotel rooms and houses of prostitution buyers.

These inconvenient facts cause liberals great difficulty in selling the message that prostitution is work. In light of these facts, prostitution begins to look like a system of hush money paid to pimps to supply men with vulnerable women for sexual use and abuse.

When elite academics like Lumby publicly declare their allegiance to ”sex workers” they concurrently reveal a loyalty to pimps and sex industry customers. They do this through framing prostitution as ”work”, and therefore sending the message that no policy or community action need be taken against the sex industry as an employer of women and legitimate business sector.

In this atmosphere, pimps and their customers are able to continue their harmful activities, and the sex industry in Australia is able to profitably expand and diversify.

On the other hand, when elite academics like me declare our support for ”prostituted women”, we declare a commitment to elimination of the sex industry. We work towards public recognition of prostitution as a social harm through public awareness campaigns highlighting the effects of the sex industry on individual women, and women’s social status.

Just like the anti-smoking campaigns that began in the 1970s, we seek a reorientation of the public’s thinking about prostitution towards a critique of the ”pretty woman” and ”happy hooker” stereotype. Australian policymakers and community leaders mobilised against the tobacco industry in the past three decades, and we seek similar government action against the sex industry as a driver of social harm.

The criminalisation of pimps and sex industry customers is a necessary first step towards this goal, but we also call for public education about the reality of prostitution, as well as policy planning for programs and initiatives to assist women to leave the sex industry and build lives that reflect their worth as full citizens.

Dr Caroline Norma is a lecturer in the school of Global Studies, Social Science & Planning at RMIT University.

New Trafficking Trend in South Africa

Asia to Africa through the fishing industry…

South Africa, being a country with multiple port cities, sees the literal traffic of fishing vessels carrying men from places like Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia. These men often come from vulnerable regions of their homeland, and are then exploited and trafficked for labor. Recruiters in their own country deceive them with hopes of a decent job. Not For Sale South Africa is determined to be a role player in the assisting and problem solving of this issue in South Africa, as it has recently become a notable trend.

                                        

 

Read more via Not For Sale

International Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report released

via CNN Freedom Project (follow link for video responses)

“Victims are not statistics … They are people with hopes, with dreams, with courage … With names. Remember their names.” – Somaly Mam

The annual Trafficking in Persons Report – the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts – was published Tuesday by the U.S. State Department.

It identifies countries that the U.S. says meet minimum standards of anti-trafficking efforts, countries working towards them and countries that appear to be doing little to stop trafficking.

https://i2.wp.com/www.humanrights.gov/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/JTIPreport_Live_405_1.jpg

Read Report in full – includes downloadable PDF files

File containing South African information (p.315-317)

The report is compiled with the help of U.S. embassies, non-governmental organizations, aid groups and individuals around the world.

It also counts known cases of human trafficking in more than 175 countries, whether for commercial sex, bonded labor, child labor, involuntary domestic servitude or child soldiers. And it tracks new legislation, prosecutions and convictions.

Each country is put into one of four grades – Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier Two Watch and Tier Three. Tier 1 is achieved by reaching minimum anti-trafficking standards and it does not highlight countries doing above and beyond the minimum.

For the first time in 11 years Myanmar has been promoted from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch. The report says Myanmar is primarily a source country for trafficking to other Asia countries, but there are still significant domestic trafficking problems and children can be conscripted into the national army.

It recommends Myanmar demobilizes child soldiers and focus more attention on domestic sex trafficking of women and children.

The Czech Republic -the only country last year to slip out of the top-rank – regained its Tier 1 status having introduced a series of anti-trafficking laws and securing successful trafficking convictions.

Iceland, Israel and Nicaragua were also promoted to Tier 1.

Portugal, however, was downgraded to Tier 2 because while new laws and initiatives were introduced, there was no evidence it was leading to prison sentences for the majority of convicted traffickers.

Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina also fell out of the top-ranked countries

Kenya was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch because it did not show evidence of increasing efforts to combat human trafficking.

Syria – with its ongoing violent conflict – was the only country relegated into Tier 3. The report said the lack of security made it difficult to check anti-trafficking measures.

Before the unrest Syria was primarily a destination country for trafficked women and children. The report found the unrest had put more people at risk from traffickers, particularly vulnerable segments of the population like Iraqi refugees.

The Tip Report’s ranking system is largely dependent on the amount of work being done by the national government rather than non-government or international organizations.

Tier 1 ranking indicates a government has acknowledged the existence of human trafficking, has made efforts to address the problem, and meets minimum standards.

Tier 2 is countries whose governments do not fully comply with minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance.

Tier 2 watch is countries where governments do not fully meet minimum standards, and although they may be making significant efforts the country has a particularly large number of victims, or is not providing evidence of its efforts

Tier 3 is countries that do not fully comply with minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so. Tier 3 countries face the possibility of US sanctions because of their poor human trafficking record.

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Child sex-workers: Efforts to trace parents

Original article: http://www.news24.com (19/02/2012)

The KwaZulu-Natal police say they have yet to trace the families of some of the 16 child sex-workers rescued in Durban last week.

Spokesperson Colonel Vincent Mdunge said on Sunday authorities had managed to track down some of the girls’ parents, but  that finding the remaining families “would not be an overnight exercise, because the girls came from different parts of the country”.

“The investigators have allowed the girls to undergo a debriefing session after which they will be filing sworn statements. Only then will re-introduction with families occur,” he added.

The girls, eight of whom were minors, were used as drug mules and prostitutes, and were under the influence of drugs when they were rescued.

They were due to be shipped out of South Africa from Durban.

Four people have been arrested.

The KwaZulu-Natal MEC for social development, Weziwe Thusi, commended the police on the arrests.

“We must fight the existence of child trafficking and prostitution rings because they attack the very core of our existence. I would like to call on communities to assist the police in fighting this scourge,” Thusi said.

– SAPA

The new Christian abolition movement

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Original article on CNN’s belief blog with video

Greensboro, North Carolina (CNN) —The truck-stop hooker is no Julia Roberts, the trucker in the cab with her no Richard Gere, and this truck stop off the highway could not be any farther from Beverly Hills, the staging ground for “Pretty Woman.”

“The nation and the state are still working to catch up with the reality of trafficking…”

The woman sports baggy shorts, a white T-shirt and frizzy hair. Her fat middle-aged pimp sits in a beat up red Honda, watching as his “lot lizard” moves from truck to truck, in broad daylight.  If this pimp has a cane it is for substance, not style.

She moves through the parking lot, occasionally opening a cab’s passenger-side door and climbing in.

The trucker and hooker disappear in the back for 10 minutes.

Danielle Mitchell watches from the other end of the parking lot and shakes her head.

“We know from talking to other victims and other agencies that girls are taken to truck stops and they’re actually traded,” she says, sitting in her car, a shiny silver sport utility vehicle, keeping a healthy 50-yard distance from the pimp.

Mitchell is North Carolina human trafficking manager for World Relief.  World Relief is a Christian nonprofit attached to the National Association of Evangelicals and is best known for its efforts to combat global hunger and respond to disasters around the world.

Mitchell is trying to tackle a disaster in her home state.   And she is not alone.

Motivated in large part by their religious traditions of protecting the vulnerable and serving “the least of these,” as Jesus instructed his followers to do in the Gospel of Matthew, World Relief and other Christian agencies like the Salvation Army are stepping up efforts and working with law enforcement to stem the flow of human trafficking, which includes sex trafficking and labor trafficking.

“Jesus didn’t just go around telling people about himself.  He also healed the blind and healed the brokenhearted, he freed captives, and I think that it would be ridiculous to walk up to someone who is hurting and tell them, ‘Let me tell you about the Gospel,’ and then walk away while they’re still hurting,” Mitchell says.

In North Carolina, the result of those efforts can be seen in the number of victims of human trafficking being referred to World Relief for services, up 700% in 2011, Mitchell says.

“It’s not that North Carolina is all of a sudden trafficking more people,” Mitchell says. “It’s that we know what to look for and we’re actually identifying and rescuing them.”

Truck stops and sweet potatoes

“…we’ve found one of the very few times girls are alone is when they’re in the bathroom.”

North Carolina’s rich soil makes it an agricultural hub. It produces more sweet potatoes than anywhere else in the country.  The state acts as a crossroads for three major interstate highways. The mix of accessibility and low-paying farm jobs make a good working environment for traffickers, Mitchell says.

This truck stop is the type you think twice about.  It’s grimy and run down.

How badly do I really have to use the bathroom?  I bet I could hold out for another 12 miles.  That kind of place.

Mitchell walks in and politely asks the women behind the register if they have tape.

“Over there, honey,” the cashier says, pointing to a dimly lit portion of the store.

After paying for a roll of industrial packing tape, she tucks it in her purse and heads for the restroom.

In a stall on the far end, she shuts the door behind her and pulls out the tape and a poster with words in English and Spanish.

“Need help?” the poster asks. “Are you being forced to do something you don’t want to do?” There’s a toll free number, 888-373-7888, for the National Human Trafficking Hotline, run by the nonprofit Polaris Project.

“A lot of times when girls are being trafficked they’re being controlled,” Mitchell says. “They’re often not allowed to get very far from their trafficker.  And we’ve found one of the very few times girls are alone is when they’re in the bathroom.”

She used to ask if she could hang posters in truck stop restrooms. Now she just hangs them.

That toll free hot line number is plastered on combs, lip balms and nail files that Mitchell and other anti-trafficking workers can slip discreetly to men and women they suspect might be victims. Slipping a potential client an anti-trafficking business card could be dangerous, even deadly, they say.

A comb, nail file and lip balm feature the number for the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

But it’s not the only way Mitchell gets in touch with victims.  Law enforcement is reaching out to her more and more.

When North Carolina law enforcement breaks up a trafficking ring, they call her.

She helps the victims get safe places to live, food and job training,  along with just being a conversation partner.

Since 2010, North Carolina has had a statewide coalition to fight human trafficking. Law enforcement officers are now trained in what to look for. The program includes rapid response teams made up of representatives from law enforcement, service providers, hospitals and charities. When a potential victim comes into a hospital or is discovered through an arrest, the team springs into action.

“Victims are not going to self-identify,” says Mitchell, who has since left World Relief and is considering going back to school after a lack of funding threatened to cut her hours to part time. “ They’re not going to say ‘I’m a victim of human trafficking.’ So the burden is really on the service providers and law enforcement and the community.”

In North Carolina, the partnerships between those groups, she says, “have helped to rescue victims.”

Church and state in an unlikely coalition 

Christian groups working to combat trafficking are providing law enforcement with some much-needed relief.

“Because of the limitations of our work, we like to partner with organizations that can provide services,” says Kory Williford, a victim specialist with the FBI based in North Carolina.

“Human trafficking isn’t the only victim population we work with, so to have organizations who can provide care to our victims on a longer term basis than we are able to is huge,” she says.

“A lot of sex trafficking is occurring in this state” and labor trafficking is on the upswing, Williford says.

The FBI in North Carolina has been partnering with World Relief for several years.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Anand P. Ramaswamy, who focuses on human trafficking cases across the state from the federal prosecutors office in Greensboro, says he has been collaborating with local law enforcement on human trafficking.

“Those kind of cases have only recently been on the uptick,” he says. “As officers become more trained in what to look for, the number of cases goes up.”

The nation and the state are still working to catch up with the reality of trafficking, he says.

“Sometimes the victim was treated as part of the problem,” he says.  “In one instance a 16-year-old girl was charged with prostitution by local authorities.  So we have to go and sort of undo that.  That’s also the case where the person may have done something wrong, so they’re reluctant to come forward.”

Ramaswamy is keenly aware that his office and religious groups do not always have the same interests. His is in upholding and enforcing the law, while religious groups are interested in practicing their religion.

But the assistant U.S. attorney still believes in the partnership between church and state.

“On one hand the fact they’re a religious organization is not directly relevant,” he says. “However, if you look at the history of the abolitionist movement, it has always been religious communities and those are the people who are concerned enough to be active in it.

“And today with modern-day slavery the same is the case.”

The new Underground Railroad

Westover Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, is imagining what fighting modern-day slavery could look like. The nondenominational suburban church is cut from an evangelical cloth and has 5,000 members and a sprawling campus.

In 2011, the church started a ministry called “Abolition!” to fight human trafficking. It focuses on prayer, awareness and resources.

“In truth we didn’t know what we were going to do. We just knew we had a really strong passion for it,” says Dianne Stone, an “Abolition!” member. “We didn’t want to be a group that got together and said, ‘Oh we feel so bad for this.’ We wanted to do something and we wanted to make a difference.”

In a bright room off the sanctuary, Stone, Cambre Weller and Jennifer Craver, all members the group, explain why they got involved. They seem unlikely fighters against trafficking.

They could easily pass for a women’s Bible study group as they casually chat about their children and church activities before turning their attention to trafficking concerns in their area.

“It’s another thing to realize this is in your backyard and that’s our responsibility to address that and protect those who are being exploited,” Craver says.

Craver says the things they have learned about trafficking are horrible and keep her up at night. “I don’t want to know about trafficking, but I do know about it and as a Christian, I feel like I have to respond to that,” she says. “That is part of my calling.”

The group screens documentaries about human trafficking at other churches and sends out speakers to the Christian circuit. They also prepare emergency bags: canvas totes with a comb, brush, journal, pajamas, clean towels and other basics they learned that most trafficked women don’t have.

They keep a ready stash of bags for World Relief to distribute to victims, particularly those who are rescued during raids.

Mitchell says her faith has played a large role in her work to help victims of trafficking. “I don’t think I’m any different than anyone I work with, in vulnerability or dignity,” she says. “And man, I really believe that Christ saw everyone equally.”

Danielle Mitchell views her faith as integral to her work in fighting human trafficking.

“I could have been born in a brothel in India,” she says.

But there is a limit to how much personal faith she shares with clients.

“We’re completely client centered,” she says. “That means we’re not going to force our faith on anyone.  And I don’t talk to the clients about what I believe, unless they ask me.”

“If a client asks me and they want to go to a Buddhist temple, then I’m going to take them because that’s what they want.”

Prostituted not prostitute

Back at the truck stop, Mitchell explains that she hates the term “prostitute” and despises the phrase “lot lizard.”  She says it strips people of their dignity.

Instead, she refers to a “woman or man who is being prostituted.”  It is a slight change in wording that reveals a starkly different viewpoint.

“A lot of people think of sex trafficking or prostitution, they think it’s glamorous and that you can pinpoint someone who is selling sex or being sold for sex,” she says. “Usually it’s just average people who maybe aren’t taking care of themselves.”

The prostitute, or woman being prostituted, or potential human trafficking victim, gets back into the beat up red Honda with the overweight pimp, who drives off, maybe after catching a glimpse of a journalist and activist watching them from a safe distance.

Mitchell calls the police to report what she just saw.

A few hours later, they call back and say the alleged pimp and alleged prostitute are long gone.