Working to end human trafficking
Sunday, June 2, 2013
For Anna and Chris Smith, the movement against human trafficking began with a single step.
As college students, they took part in a walk to create awareness of the issue. Four years later, the Pitt County natives are making strides in an area where other advocacy groups have never tread: establishing a shelter for American boys who have been victimized by sex trafficking.
The house, which the couple hopes to open as early as next year, is expected to be the first residential program of its kind in the nation. The home is designed for six, but its goal is singular — to restore each one.
“That’s where the name Restore One came from really is the regard for the one,” said Anna Smith, co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit ministry, which marks its one-year anniversary today. “Jesus had the utmost regard for that one that he would go to all lengths to rescue that one sheep and bring it back into the flock.”
Thousands in need
Those in need of rescue number in the hundreds of thousands. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that at least 100,000 U.S. children are used in prostitution every year in America.
“You think about India and Thailand, Cambodia (for human trafficking), but it’s here,” Emily Fitchpatrick, founder of on Eagle’s Wings Ministries, which operates Asheville’s Hope House, said.
Anna, who earned a degree in social work from East Carolina University, worked as an intern at Hope House, a Christian residential program. The Smiths also served with a Triad-area group in the fight against sex trafficking. But both programs focused their efforts on girls.
Fitchpatrick, formerly of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, said when Hope House opened in 2009, there were few residential programs in the country for girls, let alone for boys.
‘Certainly a need’
“There’s certainly a need for a place for boys,” Fitchpatrick said. “You hear about sex trafficking, and you mostly hear about girls ... but you’ll see a lot of boys that are abused through pornography.
“We’ve had to turn away a few. We had a call about a 5-year-old boy one time.”
Thirteen is the average age at which a child enters prostitution, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Often they are runaways who have been victims of child abuse at home.
In 2011, Polaris Project’s call specialists with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline answered nearly 20,000 calls and connected some 3,000 potential victims of human trafficking to services and support. But in its 2011 report, NHTRC cited a nationwide shortage of shelters for trafficking victims, particularly for males.
“I think one of the largest learning curves that I’ve experienced with this is the connection that this happens to boys,” Anna said. “When I talk to people and bring up boys, they’ll rope the conversation back around and say, ‘Yeah, we need to help those girls.’ We just picture men as the perpetrators and women as the victims, but that’s not the case.”
Restore One hopes to change that perception through a $400,000 fundraising campaign to launch Anchor House. For boys ages 12-17, the house is designed as a safe harbor where they can attend school, receive counseling and live under the care and supervision of house parents for a year or more while they work to regain stability.
“That name really came from how when people are trafficked, they need a place that can kind of anchor them in, a shelter that brings them stability,” Anna said. “Many of these children come from unstable home lives, abuse, times of running away. Having a house that can anchor them in is what it’s all about, a hope.”
Tina Frundt remembers what it was like to have no hope. Sexually exploited at age 9, Frundt was arrested at age 15 and charged with prostitution. There was no one to help her.
Now the founder and executive director of Courtney’s House in Washington, D.C., Frundt works to save other children from the type of horror she endured. Courtney’s House, which provides an outreach for boys and girls, helped 98 children in its emergency services program last year. Eight of the 36 children in the program are boys, and four boys are on a waiting list.
One of the children Frundt has helped was a 14-year-old boy from North Carolina who had responded to a flyer at a mall advertising a dance competition.
“When he signed up for this dance crew, he was forced out onto the street here in D.C.,” Frundt said. “He had no idea really of where he was. He was actually in D.C. inside the juvenile detention facility. He got picked up for prostitution.”
The Smiths received some of their initial training through Courtney’s House, which does not have a residential program.
“We’re about the only ones in the whole country that provide services (for boys),” Frundt said. “That’s why housing is really needed. ... There are no places that boys can go.”
While working to establish Anchor House, Restore One has begun other anti-trafficking efforts, including Project So Loved, a prevention program designed to educate boys and girls to keep them from being vulnerable to traffickers.
“We have many kids who go home in Pitt County where their parents don’t have the means to provide them food,” Anna said. “They’ll resort to selling themselves on the street to be able to provide for their needs.”
She recalls a story she heard through another local nonprofit group about a young girl whose hunger made her a target.
“A man would meet her and say, ‘If you have sex with me, I’ll buy you a Happy Meal,’” she said.
It is not only children in poverty or those in single-parent households who are vulnerable, Anna, who was sexually exploited in childhood by a boy her age, said.
“I came from a great two-parent household, just really well-rounded family who went to church,” she said. “So it can happen to any kid.”
To create awareness, Restore One has teamed with another local anti-trafficking group for community awareness projects. Eastern N.C. Stop Human Trafficking Now Founder Pam Strickland hopes to partner with Restore One to continue the work of the Pitt County Human Trafficking Task Force, established by the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office in 2009.
Strickland’s organization fights trafficking, in part, through legislative advocacy and through expanding local markets for “fair trade” items, which are produced without coerced or exploitative labor practices. It also helped provide financial support to the Smiths during their work with trafficking victims in the Triad.
“They are doing great things,” Strickland said. “We feel like there are a lot of areas we can work together on; we support each other.”
Already, the groups have come together for a showing of “Nefarious,” a documentary film that shines a light on the global issue of sex trafficking.
Restore One has found a receptive audience among college students. Justine Williams, Restore One’s director of community programs, is a student at East Carolina University. Chris and Anna both are 24.
“More than any time in history, we really have almost the greatest opportunity to end human trafficking, our generation,” Chris, Restore One’s co-founder and president, said. “I tell them (college students), ‘What are you going to tell your grandkids one day? Are you going to tell them that when I was your age, there were 30 million people enslaved, but my generation stepped up. We stood up and we did something about it.’”