Human Trafficking: North Carolina’s Hidden Crime

By Allison DeBusk, Staff Writer

Image from greatsmitten.com.
Image from greatsmitten.com.

As I sit across from Alex Trice, she appears to be a happy and well-adjusted person. Her bright smile spreads easily across her face. She likes Starbucks coffee and volunteers at a therapeutic riding center.  She speaks with a British accent.

Occasionally people ask her about her childhood, and her response shocks many.

Trice was a victim of human trafficking.

It is estimated that 27 million people around the world are currently victims of modern day slavery, according to the Polaris Project. At least 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year. 70% percent of female victims are part of sex trafficking and the other 30% are forced workers. 161 countries are impacted by human trafficking in some way.

These statistics are merely rough estimates.

“Actual statistics are often unavailable, and some may be contradictory due to the covert nature of the crime, the invisibility of victims and high levels of under-reporting,” reports the Polaris Project. “Further obstacles include inconsistent definitions, reluctance to share data, and a lack of funding for and standardization of data collection.”

Trice was born in Hong-Kong to a poor Filipino mother. At the age of two, an English woman named Mercedes adopted her. Merecedes told her mother that Trice would have a better life. Mercedes also adopted two girls from India.

Mercedes moved the girls to Spain.  She began telling them she was the reincarnated God.

“She just wanted the fear and respect,” said Trice. “I was really young, so I just went along with it. My sisters had been brainwashed.”

Mercedes was abusive and never allowed the girls to attended school. Instead, she kept them in a two bedroom house with about 20 dogs, making the girls take care of them.

“When I was six, I was thrashed with a riding crop,” said Trice. “In the summer time, I had to wear long sleeve shirts.”

They also moved to England, where Trice became a citizen.

In 2001, Mercedes moved the girls to the U.S., but when their tourist visas expired, she would not take them back to Spain.

“She made us all become ‘illegal immigrants,’” said Trice. “She’d always use being illegal as a threat. It was a very good scare tactic.”

They lived in Monroe, N.C. on four acres of land with livestock including 300 chickens, goats, sheep, pigeons, 14 dogs and a parakeet. One hundred and fifty chickens lived in the house.

“It smelled awful and I honestly can’t tell you how I lived through that,” said Trice.

At the age of 15, Trice offered up a prayer.

“I said, ‘God, if you’re out there, please deliver us out of this situation,’” said Trice.

Shortly after, in Dec. 2005, it appeared her prayer was answered. A neighbor had finally reported their situation and social workers came to the house.

“I decided this was my one chance,” said Trice. “We all just started spilling our guts out.”

On Dec. 21, the girls were rescued, and they have celebrated that day with their new family since then.

Trice attended high school, graduating on time by taking summer and night classes. She applied to Elon and received a full ride. A year ago, she graduated.

This summer, she will move to Washington DC, where she will work for International Justice Mission as a multimedia intern.

“I’ll probably have to relive some of my memories, but I feel like that’s a small part of the bigger picture,” said Trice. “I’ll never be able to properly thank everyone who helped me get where I am today. The best thing I can do is pay it forward.”

ladder-4-steps
Image from triadladderofhope.org.

Triad Ladder of Hope, founded by Sandra Johnson in Jan. of 2005, is also trying to raise awareness about human trafficking.

“There wasn’t a lot of people doing a lot about it,” said Johnson. “I started Triad Ladder of Hope with a high school education and no nonprofit experience.”

Triad Ladder of Hope works to raise awareness by offering training and education on how to spot a victim. They also are involved with law enforcement to rescue victims and meet their needs after they are rescued. They primarily assist women, but have helped men and children.

They are privately funded and Johnson is their only paid employee. Their volunteers include team leaders, an Executive Administrative Assistant, and a licensed clinical social worker. Johnson hopes to hire two part time employees to perform victim services and outreach projects.

The organization performs several outreach projects. Recently they have handed out free water bottles in High Point with information about human trafficking on them.

They are also showing a documentary called “Nefarious: Merchant of Souls.” The documentary was made by Exodus City, an anti–human trafficking organization, in 2008 to raise awareness about modern sex slavery.

When a victim is helped out of their abusive situations, Triad Ladder of Hope goes through a process of supporting and orienting the individual.

“We find them a safe place to stay, meet their physical needs, help them reconnect with their families,” said Johnson. “We’re with them when they’re working with law enforcement. I’m a big believer in Holistic healing, and work with the person and whole family.”

Each victim is an individual case and must be treated as such.

“They all come with different problems and struggles,” said Johnson. “Most of them have been traumatized. We have to be prepared to work with any type of situation.”

One situation became international. Two years ago, the organization was able to bring three children from Cameroon to Greensboro.

Human trafficking will not be stopped until awareness becomes widespread and itizens realize this is a problem, but the average person can help.

“The average person can become educated, learn the signs and what to do” said Johnson. “Everyone should be willing to call the hotline.”

Johnson also believes that churches will be able to help victims. Some churches are founding a modern day underground railroad system of churches and homes, beginning with Concord Friends Church in Summerfield, N.C.

Both Johnson and Trice think college students can also make a difference.

“I saw so many people from my college learn,” said Trice. “It’s going to be people our age and those coming up. They can start a movement in their own communities.”

“There’s so much that college students can do,” said Johnson.

As college students, we can contact Triad Ladder of Hope to organize a showing of “Nefarious,” start a club dedicated to addressing human trafficking and bringing awareness to it as a modern problem.  Students can also participate in training and education on how to recognize signs of victimhood and how to train others (especially educators, service providers, and members of law enforcement).

You hear them Guilford. Let’s do something.

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