Today I am going to talk about something a little different than usual. Generally I pick a topic about human trafficking and discuss the issues behind it and some common misconceptions. This time I will actually be talking about something that directly involves All We Want is LOVE and that is #SoleMates.

            #SoleMates is an after school program that is dedicated to “Connecting the Mind, The Heart, and The SOLE through a leadership/volunteer program for elementary school children at risk for human trafficking and bullying.” The point of the program is to give kids a foot in the right direction. The founders of #SoleMates are Ashley Harkrader and Co-Founder Loryn Wurst (Owner of FitGirl Charlotte). How it works is they work with a school in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools system (CMS) to give kids a better start and to limit their chances of being trafficked. The program is on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:30-4:15pm starting October 27th through December 3rd. Each day the volunteers will teach kids, through hands on activities, about important life issues such as; leadership, teamwork, respect, listening, sexual assault, anger issues, self-esteem, body image, male/female unity, and current events. By completing the program each child will receive a band new pair of shoes.

            This program is volunteer oriented and will not only change the lives of the volunteers but also the lives of the children. The reason this is so important is because North Carolina is in the top 10 states with the highest rates of human trafficking. And what’s even more is that Charlotte, North Carolina is number 6 in the nation where about 300,000 children are at risk of being sold and trafficked. Plus there are roughly 2,500-3,000 kids who are targeted in our own community of CMS. So All We Want is LOVE decided to do something about these numbers and give back to the community.

            What’s most important is the way that #SoleMates fights trafficking. No, no one is busting down doors and saving kids locked up from the world. This program fights human trafficking as a prevention mechanism and in an empowering way. Many times child victims have also been severely bullied. Bullying leads to low self-esteem and self-worth, and makes many children feel invisible or unwanted. When kids feel unworthy it leads to a need to escape. Many children who are bullied are more likely to run away and this puts them in a more vulnerable state than they could ever foresee.

            When a child runs away they are more vulnerable to human trafficking. With nowhere to go and no way to eat, children turn to people for affirmation and support. 1 of 3 runaway children are approached by a trafficker within 48 hours. The likelihood that a child on the streets with be a victim of human trafficking is a little less than half. As I said before there are 2,500-3,000 kids who are vulnerable to human trafficking in Mecklenburg County alone. Imagine how many of them will be trafficked if we don’t do anything.

            This is why #SoleMates is so vital. The program gives children emotional and mental strength. It gives them the power over their situations and the knowledge to combat the reality of bullying. If we can give children the confidence in themselves through education and positive role models, then we can reduce the reality and possibility of them being sold and traded in the human trafficking market for labor and sex.

*****If you would like to sign up as a volunteer or make any donations for the program please contact us through our page!*****

You just should Run Away

        When we talk about things like human trafficking it’s easy to say “why don’t they just run away”. In many ways this seems like an easy solution to the problem. If you are in a bad situation or your life is at risk, the simplest conclusion that’s easy to make, is run away. Most everyone has seen Taken, or Silence of the Lambs, maybe some episodes of criminal minds or Law and Order: SVU, in these cases people always are escaping or being rescued in the nick of time. So why don’t people do it in real life?

            When someone is trafficked, one of the problems is they usually know their trafficker. Sometimes it will be someone they are just familiar with and other times it’s someone who they really trust if not care for. As easy as it is to say that they should just leave, it’s really not that simply. Once someone realizes the situation they are in its difficult to come to terms with what is happening.

            Sophie Hayes shared her story about being trafficked. She explains that she had been dating this guy for years. They talked every day and when he invited her to Italy to visit, she never expected what happened. He forced her into prostitution. The man that she loved and trusted just deceived her. She found out that he was a criminal, a trafficker or guns, drugs, and women, and as he informed her on what he expected her to do she froze.



            Not only does she discuss what happened to her, she explains why she didn’t run, why she couldn’t run. Sophie explained that he threatened her. He told her that he had people everywhere and that if she disobeyed she was a dead woman. He tormented her by taking her to a lake saying that this is where her dead body would be if she acted out. But she wouldn’t be the only one to suffer, her family and friends would also. And in this she knew there was truth. Although she was not physically chained, she was mentally and emotionally chained. She began to fear everyone and trust no one. She couldn’t even go to police of the government because many of the men who paid for her sex were cops, military men, judges, and doctors.

            Many people who are trafficked experience similar control. She says “To the outside world this is a difficult concept to understand, but with extreme fear comes complete debilitation. Fear of the mind is often the hardest thing to rationalize with.” And according to Austin Texas Gov. “in addition to the physical violence and threats of violence against themselves, victims also face the threat of having their family members harmed or murdered by the traffickers if they try to run away or tell anyone about their situation. This creates extreme fear and psychological bondage that keeps them enslaved.”

            As you can see escaping isn’t simple. Most victims face extreme psychological barriers, brutal abuse, manipulation, brainwashing, and distrust of the law. Escaping does not only risk their life, but the lives of their loved ones and not to mention further retaliation from their trafficker. Although running away seems to be a simple solution, in reality it is nearly impossible, and when actually successful it is very dangerous and comes with many repercussions.

I highly encourage you to at least read the blog written by Sophie Hayes (a pseudonym) if nothing else. She shares a powerful story that sheds light on the reality of human trafficking. In addition to her story, I also have two other sources. They are brief but very useful and I recommend you to read over them as well if you can find the time!





And who exactly are the Human Traffickers?

When we talk about the issue of human trafficking we all visualize a person in our minds. Honestly in my mind the perpetrator is always faceless, not because I don’t know who is doing the trafficking, but because it really could be anyone. That’s not to say that there aren’t certain popular characteristics, but a trafficker is more than the person who imprisons another. Many people play many different roles in human trafficking, and they too are traffickers.

According to the NHTRC, human traffickers are people who “lure and ensnare people into forced labor and sex trafficking by manipulating and exploiting their vulnerabilities.” They are people who target those who are in need in many diverse ways such as, lacking employment, searching for a better life, longing for a stable situation, and more. “Traffickers can be foreign nationals and U.S. citizens, males and females, family members, intimate partners, acquaintances, and strangers.” (NHTRC) They do not solely represent one face. Furthermore, “A wide range of criminals, including individual pimps, family operations, small businesses, loose-knit decentralized criminal networks, and international organized criminal operations, can be human traffickers.” (NHTRC). It’s apparent that there aren’t a particular grouping of people who are doing the trafficking.

There are also two different roles to be played in human trafficking. It can’t be only one person who is carry all of this out.  As stated by Human Rights First, there are two different and distinct roles in human trafficking; one being the exploiter and the other the enabler. “The exploiters of human trafficking include a wide range of criminals and criminal enterprises that organize, implement, and profit from trafficking human beings.” They further this concept by placing the traffickers into three different categories: Recruitment/Abduction, Transfer/Transportation, and lastly Exploitation.

The first type of exploiter/trafficker is one who recruits or abducts victims by means of fraud, coercion, or force. They promise a better life and “greater” opportunities for their future. The second is a person who transports a person to their place of exploitation. People can be trafficked by land, sea, or air, on boats, trucks, and animals, and in all types of ways. Although transportation can be seen in many trafficking cases, it’s important to remember that someone can be trafficked without ever leaving their home. The last category refers to the person whom actually exploits the victim. Exploitation can occur in a variety of places as long as there is a demand for commercial sex, or free labor; “victims are often exploited in the agricultural industry, private households, beauty parlors, nail salons, cleaning companies, restaurants, and beyond.” (Human Rights First)

All of these sections are a very precise representation of a human trafficker, however there is another very important role that is played in every human trafficking instance. And that is the enabler. “Enablers are the entities and individuals who knowingly or unknowingly provide goods and services – some of them through criminal activities – so that trafficking can take place.” They are “actors in the transportation, hospitality, advertising, and financial sectors whose services are often used by perpetrators.” (Human Rights First) These people who are consciously aware or completely oblivious of what they are partaking in, ultimately are the people who drive human trafficking. Without these people trafficking wouldn’t be able to exist. “Traffickers often rely on enablers in order to conduct their business…because they…provide goods and services to exploiters, which make human trafficking possible and profitable.” (Human Rights First)

The evidence above points us to the facts. The facts of who the traffickers really are. Who the faceless person is. Although they can’t be pointed out in a crowd, they can be identified. Although a faceless person lacks the commercial form of identification, they are still visible and they still exist. Now that we know who the traffickers are we can stop asking the question and start fighting the problem.





Human Trafficking and Drug Abuse

         Something that we haven’t touched on much, since I have been blogging, is the issues of drug use in regards to human trafficking.  The drug industry is one of the biggest underground non-state actors right next to human trafficking. So it’s not too shocking how these two global issues work together hand in hand. Drugs play a significant role in the act of human trafficking. However, unlike what the media often portrays, a lot of victims aren’t drug addicts before being trafficked, but many break free from this with drug addictions and dependencies. There are a few different ways in which drug abuse and human trafficking intertwine. These are through recruitment, control, and coping. (Prevention Summit).

            In regards to recruitment, sometimes victims will actually end up in a trafficking situation due to prior drug abuse. More often than not, this is seen in the sex industry. Many men and women turn to prostitution in order to support drug dependencies (DARA). This is used as leverage by many traffickers as a way to obtain workers.

            Next is drug abuse to acquire control. Many traffickers will force drug use as a means of control over the victim so that they do what they want.  “In some cases, a prostitute will be forced by a pimp or other person to take drugs to ensure that they do as they are told... This is particularly true in the case of young people and children” (DARA). Sadly, children are forced to take drugs or drink alcohol, to have sex or to perform sexual acts without consent as well (DARA). “Drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine are commonly used to make a person become an addict and force them to do the work the traffickers want them to do” (DARA). In many cases the drug abuse that is formed through the control of their enforcers it eventually will become a way to finance their drug addiction (DARA). A drug abuse that may have never existed before this now is an addiction that binds them to their exploitation.

            Lastly, using drugs as a method of coping is also very common. “Drug use may be a consequence of human trafficking, and drugs may be taken to numb themselves, deal with the reality of their life, and as a way to be able to continue to do the degrading and often violent work” (DARA). In addition, some victims may develop a chemical use problem or dependence in the aftermath of being trafficked in an effort to reduce their experience of posttraumatic emotional distress (MNHTTF). This is an issue that needs to be addressed with more, but more on that later!

            It is obvious to see how drugs and human trafficking are interconnected and influence each other. As the drug industry increases it is fair to say that so does human trafficking. This problem can be overwhelming and intimidating by the task at hand. Not only is the war on human trafficking being fought, but now we must fight the war on drugs. Who is to say that the numbers won’t change as one is reduced? I encourage you all to look at my resources for this week. They provided necessary enlightenment.









Legislation to Combat Human Trafficking

We have now talked about a lot of different aspects of human trafficking, and I think that it’s fair to say that we all agree that this is a bad thing. And as bad as it may be, and as much as we feel like we want to help, some of you may be thinking… What are we (as a country) doing about this?

            For everyone who is unsure or who don’t know, one of the first anti-human trafficking laws was the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) that was passed in 2000. The TVPA “established several methods of prosecuting traffickers, preventing human trafficking, and protecting victims and survivors of trafficking. The act establishes human trafficking and related offenses as federal crimes, and attaches severe penalties to them.” (Polaris) This act set a precedent for all legislation about human trafficking.

            Okay, so that was in 2000! That feels like forever ago. What is happening now? After the TVPA was passed there were many other laws passed in the next few years; however after 2008 not much has been passed. The most recent laws that have been passed were in 2013. Those are the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) and the National Defense Authorization Act. The TVPRA was actually an amendment of the Violence against Women Act. The Reauthorization “established and strengthened programs to ensure that U.S. citizens do not purchase products made by victims of human trafficking, and to prevent child marriage” (Polaris). The latter was established with the goal to minimize the human trafficking that is associated with government contactors by allowing governmental agencies to terminate a contract with an organization or person who is involved in human trafficking, with no penalty inflicted (Polaris).

            In regards to current legislation, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act was just signed by President Barack Obama on May 29th 2015. After the bill quickly passed through the House of Representatives (420-3), it was halted in the senate for further debate and analyzation. However the senate ended up passing the pill to the President with a majority of 99-0. This act developed and passed so that victims of human trafficking can get the proper help that they deserve. They now will have access to the services they need and protection under the law (The Hill).

“Survivors of child sex trafficking in the United States will finally receive the vital services and protections they deserve,” Yasmin Vafa,
— http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/243519-obama-signs-anti-trafficking-law

            There are also many other bills that are being discussed in congress now. If you are interested in reading more about these refer to this link. A great aspect of this resource if you can click on different states and a place for the Federal government in order to review state and federal legislation. Also below I have listed my resources and a fun School House Rock video (yes it is for younger viewers but I love School House Rock and it’s always a fun reminder of the basics).

$$$ Money, Money, MONEY!!! $$$

I have to be honest. This topic wasn’t easy. I researched and researched the economics of human trafficking. Searched for statistics and scoured for facts. Although I ended up finding a few really good sources I have to say I am dreadfully surprised to say that this was a difficult task. Not because economics is difficult to process or read about (which it is sometimes), but primarily because with a profit so large and a dilemma so global, one would figure it would be easy to find information on.

I have read many books in college that describes crimes of human trafficking and their supply and demand. I know from these readings that this problem is a billion dollar profit.  So why is it not in our articles? Why can’t I find it on the news? It obviously isn’t because it’s not a significant problem.

If you ask me, I believe that we are ashamed of our global predicament. As we should be. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, at least 127 countries have been subjected to human exploitation in at least 137 states. In addition, the number of people being trafficked globally is 70,000 more each year. With a total of 20.9 million people being trafficked annually we can’t risk the number rising.

This issue like many others is a business. It is an economic identity that exists and thrives due to a supply and demand basis. The reason that this exists is because of the same reason a grocery store exists. There is a need or desire for a commodity, thus a business is created to fulfill that need. Human trafficking is no exception to this. Like the UN Office of Drugs and Crime states, “Human trafficking has many faces: forced or bonded labor; domestic servitude and forced marriage; organ removal; and the exploitation of children in begging, the sex trade, and warfare” and more. This list is long but in actuality is longer. Things like prostitution, war, farmers, “medical facilities”, etc. need people to accommodate for the lack of people, there will need to be a supply to fill them.

The demand is high and this is what we, as a nation and global society, need to challenge and change. In a $32 billion global market, it essential to put an end to the demand. If there is no demand there can be no supply. This vital.  When there are 21 million people trafficked for forced labor and 4.5 million for forced sexual exploitation annually, people are clearly finding their supply.  Often times suppliers get paid 4,000-50,000 a person depending on demographics. This is for any field. However, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO) the most concerning sectors for trafficking are domestic work, agriculture, construction, manufacturing and entertainment in regards to labor. Plus the sexual exploitation industry, prostitution, brothels, and other forms.

The demand is high and the prevention is low. Supply will never end without ending the market itself. This is a big challenge that may never fully be resolved, however we can lower the numbers. Educate, donate, participate, initiate and you will be amazed what you can do.

So Why North Carolina?

So now we know that human trafficking isn’t just a global issue. We know who the victims are and what the misconceptions were. So now the big question is so what? It doesn’t affect me right? Even if it happens it America it surly isn’t a problem in North Carolina! Not necessarily.

The Biblical Recorder says “With five interstate highways slicing through North Carolina, this state is well located for its earned reputation as a hotspot for human trafficking in both the sex and farm labor arenas.” As you can see North Carolina provides an opportunistic environment for human trafficking.  With many interstates and international airports it is easier than in some places to transport people.

In North Carolina this year there have been 212 hotline calls and 52 human trafficking cases reported (NHTRC). Although these numbers are high, we can pride ourselves that numbers have dropped every year since 2012. However, the fight still remains. According to Elon University, “North Carolina is the eighth largest hub for human trafficking in the United States.” So this problem isn’t going away.

The best thing you can do is educate yourself and be aware the victims and how they are targeted. The NHTRC there are different industries and companies that are using either forced labor, or sex labor. In regards to reported cases, popular industries for labor trafficking are agriculture, health and beauty services, small businesses, and domestic workers. As for sex trafficking, the popular industries are hotels and motels, online advertisement, commercial brothels, escort services, and even bars and clubs. Although this can happen to anyone of any race, age, or sex, there are higher numbers in certain demographics. In North Carolina the victims of the reported cases have been Adult Females either from the US or foreign.

This not a foreign problem, or simply an American problem, it is also a North Carolina problem. If you ever see something that looks like a human trafficking situation or transaction, call the Hotline. It’s better to be wrong than say nothing at all. Call 1-888-373-7888. If your nervous and don’t know what to expect go to this website and they will guide you through what it will be like when you call or what to look for.

If you are interested in reading on more statistics here are my resources for this week:




Myth Busters

How many people can say they have seen an episode of Myth Busters? I can honestly say that this is one of my favorite TV shows. As humans we like to know what is fact, and what is fiction. Which is exactly what Jamie and Adam do in the show. They take common myths that we have been told or have heard over the years, and then try to prove them wrong or right. Things like, if milk is the only thing to cure chili pain or if a frozen turkey could break someone’s foot.

Take a minute and think of things that you were told growing up or have heard over the years? Are they fact or fiction? Sometimes it’s difficult to tell. Well there are also some myths that you may know about human trafficking. Things that you think are true, however are not true, or at least are not 100% accurate.

Before Reading Further go test yourself to see what you know! Just CLICK the PIC!!!

Before Reading Further go test yourself to see what you know! Just CLICK the PIC!!!

When you think of human trafficking what do you visualize? What actions are taking place? Do you see people in cars tied up? Or maybe drugged in the trunk of a car? These are frequently what you see on shows like Law and Order: SVU or Criminal minds. A common myth about human trafficking is that there is a physical restraint or force to traffic someone. The reality is that when you want to control someone the weapon of choice is control of the mind. Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) the crime of trafficking is not only categorized by physical restraint, but also by psychological means such as, threats, fraud or abuse of the legal system (Polaris).

Another myth is that human trafficking is the same as human smuggling. ICE defines human smuggling as the importation of people into a country via the deliberate evasion of immigration laws. Although human trafficking can involve the illegal movement of people across international borders it is very different. In addition they are two completely different federal crimes. However the main distinction is what Polaris point out, and that is smuggling is a crime against a country’s borders, whereas human trafficking is a crime against a person. There is some type of exploitation that a human undergoes when trafficked that doesn’t occur in human smuggling.

The last myth I would like to bust is what I think is one of the most common misconception, and that is social class. When you watch the news or read an article the face that you see is usually a poor foreign child. The only pictures I ever saw, previous to college, we of people who came from poor backgrounds. The scary reality is that this isn’t a “poor man’s” problem. Polaris explains that “Although poverty can be a factor in human trafficking because it is often an indicator of vulnerability, poverty alone is not a single causal factor or universal indicator of a human trafficking victim.” Not only is that true, but they go further to say that many cases are from high socioeconomic status.

These are only a few of the many common myths. Now that I hopefully was able to shed some light on the truth of the matter, I hope you all go out and be your own myth busters. Challenge what you’re told and look for the answers. If you are curious to know about some more common myths I will attach the link below from the Polaris website. Tune in for next time!



Who are the Victims?

After talking last week about what human trafficking really is, now we need to know; who are the victims? Traditionally speaking, we generally gravitate towards women, however there are many other people affected and trafficked.   

The National Human Trafficking Recourse Center (NHTRC) groups victims into three categories. The first is children under the age of 18 that have been forced into sex labor. The second is adults (both male and female) of or over the age of 18 that have been forced, conned, or coerced into commercial sex. And lastly children and adults forced, conned, coerced and more for the purpose of any labor or service.

Although this gives a good idea of which victims are being taken for what purposes, it doesn’t really explain who is mostly being targeted. According to the Polaris Project 20.9 million people are being trafficked globally; this includes 5.5 million that are children, and 55% are women and girls. In the United States alone incidents of human trafficking have been reported in all 50 states. And within the US borders there is over hundreds of thousands of victims. Although there is not an exact total, there is 100,000 children in the sex trade each year in America.

By the stats above it is clear that this is not just an international problem. This is something that should hit home with every one of us. This affects our children and our families. With an industry worth $150 billion worldwide, this is an issue that affects all of us. Often times when human trafficking is discussed it’s talked about being a foreign problem that affects women and children. However, as we see only 55% of these people are females, which means the other half are males, and the 20.90 million people don’t just come from Nepal, Asia, or Venezuela. This problem also lies within our borders.

So let me ask you this Do you know where your state falls in the numbers? What about your city? What are the statistics? Are you curious? You should be. This business is growing, and the numbers are high. Through the next few months I will be going into detail how this not only affects the victim, but how it affects you and our society. Below I am listing some of my resources. I encourage you to read them in depth. There is also a video below. It is only 10 minutes. If you don't look at any of the links, watch this video. 

This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. When news reports show the arrest of a human trafficker and their victims finding freedom in the United States, Americans ask, "How did that happen?"

Let's Define It

What is human trafficking? If we are honest with ourselves, a lot of us aren’t sure. People are constantly moving in and out of countries, states, and cities. How do we know where the line is drawn between migrations and trafficking, and how can we tell? When talking about such a broad and prominent issue in today’s world, it’s difficult to know these things.

To give a better idea of the definition of human trafficking, I’m going to refer to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons. They state that, “Trafficking in Persons is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. “

So that’s a lot of information right? To simplify this concept a bit they broke it down into parts; act, means, and purpose. These are aspects that I think are important for discussion. The act of trafficking is not simply one person taking another; it’s an act where others are included and involved as well. Anyone who assist with the exchange of a person, actually transfers them, houses them, or is involved in any way with the knowledge of doing so, is considered guilty of the act of trafficking.

 Another factor is means. Basically this is how you obtain the person. This is key. There are many ways to get a person to cooperate. Obviously there is the option of threating and forcing. Some people are coerced with the promises of a better life, job, or opportunities. Sometimes people are abducted from the streets. Other times it’s a matter of money; it’s an issue of offering a bribe or benefits. And many times it’s a matter of fraud, deception, and the abuse of power. There have been situations where children, especially, are told that a person spoke to their parents and encourage them to come with them for many different reasons whether it be for safety, a job, a better opportunity, or something else.

The last factor is purpose. Sometimes from the outside it’s difficult to understand why this happens to so many people, or why it’s even an issue. However, there are a lot of reasons that people do this. The main reason is for exploitation. One way of exploitation is sexual, through prostitution or pornography.  Another is for forced labor in the workforce or slavery in homes. And lastly, there is a rising market for human organs, and not many people want to volunteer vital body parts to others who are dying.

It’s when all of these factors are put together that the concept of human trafficking is fully defined and discovered. Throughout my blogs I will be discussing in depth how all of these aspects effect our world, and why it is a global issue today. Also, I have posted the link to The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, as a reference. So if you have any questions refer to their FAQs page!