WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Creating a world free of human trafficking is the year-round mission of organizations like A Safe Place, and on Tuesday, which is also national human trafficking awareness day, organizations across the country are hoping to spread the message far and wide on how people can prevent these crimes.
Human trafficking doesn’t always look like it does in the movies. Dawn Ferrer, executive director of A Safe Place explains sometimes it resembles addiction, a mental health emergency, or teens talking to strangers online.
Ferrer says their program has been seeing more participants in the 14 and 15 year old age range lately.
“What’s hard is they’re not being identified at that age either,” said Ferrer.
The average age of the victims the nonprofit helps is 31, but most of the women supported by A Safe Place have stories about the exploitation starting as early as 11 years old.
To keep up with the ever changing face of human tracking, A Safe Place is kicking off new efforts in the coming weeks, the first being a new preventative course for teens.
Their ten-week after-school program, “Online predators, trafficking and social media” was written for 11 to 15-year-old girls. Reaching that age group is especially critical because on average, most women enter the sex trade at that age.
The nonprofit aims to reach girls that come from single parent households, homes with a history of substance abuse or domestic violence because those factors make a teen more vulnerable to online predators.
“Domestic sex trafficking generally starts out as a romantic relationship, or at least a trusting relationship, and when we’re talking about minors especially, the predator — the trafficker — will take six months, eight months, a year to groom this child. It’s all about building trust, so it starts out as friendship and eventually leads to a sexual relationship and then they get the child to do things that they wouldn’t normally do,” said Ferrer.
Their first cycle of the after-school program will be at DC Virgo next week, and from there, move to other New Hanover County schools. The executive director says they also hope to expand the program to include young boys in the fall.
The week after the teen after-school program, Ferrer will also begin crisis intervention training classes with Trillium for first responders across eastern North Carolina.
“This might be the first person that they’ve admitted they’ve being trafficking to, so it’s so important law enforcement understands, ‘I have to respond with compassion and with kindness towards them and validate what they’re saying,’” explained Ferrer. “In New Hanover County, the law enforcement has been much more receptive to viewing them as victims and providing them with the services that they need, so now it’s time to branch out into other counties.”
Identifying victims gets harder the further out you get from bustling cities, which is why training groups in rural counties, like Pender County EMS, could have a big impact.
“You know, you’re living so close together in a more populated area but out in the rural counties, you’re living further away. You may not see your neighbor or someone that has moved in for a couple days,” said EMS training captain Chris Cox.
A handful of the county EMS leaders took the same training course years ago and wanted to bring it back to share with their entire team, who regularly respond to welfare checks and medical calls inside people’s homes.
Cox says this month’s upcoming training with A Safe Place is worth it for the chance to impact just one life.
“There is hope out there. We are looking into it and we are trying to train and become better at it,” said Cox.
Training alone will not end human tracking, but leaders know the real magic happens when first responders, nonprofit support agencies and the community work together.
“It takes a village — it takes a village to make a change when it comes to trafficking,” said Ferrer.
Find out how to help their cause or join a training session here on A Safe Place’s website.
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