Youth group in Charlotte region battles sex trafficking

The Charlotte Observer

City News
Sunday, January 25, 2014

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Eleven Charlotte-area teens voluntarily meet at Christ Covenant Church to learn more about domestic-minor sex trafficking and raise awareness to prevent it.

Known as Youth4Abolition, a N.C. chapter-based program under Gastonia’s On Eagles Wings Ministries, the group is a nonprofit, sex trafficking prevention, outreach and after-care center. They work within the greater Charlotte area to raise awareness about sex trafficking.

Youth4Abolition members participate in fundraising for On Eagles Wings Ministries and provide information on sex trafficking at community events.

Chapter Leader Elizabeth Padgett, 18, also speaks out against human trafficking statewide. She said her message has reached more than 2,000 people. She has spoken at Steele Creek’s Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, Tsunami Ministries in Winston-Salem, and will speak for the second consecutive year at the Women of AT&T Girls Technology Day in Charlotte.

Padgett, a junior who attends Grace Academy in Matthews and lives near Quail Hollow said, “This has been an eye-opening experience for me, learning how to identify potential threatening situations and to hear how the identifying factors I’ve presented have helped others become aware of the real dangers of human trafficking.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, up to 300,000 U.S. children become victims of sexual exploitation every year. The Polaris Project runs a national human trafficking resource hotline and ranks North Carolina as one of the top 10 states with call-in inquiries for survivor support and reports of potential human trafficking.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat’s why these youth abolitionists sit comfortably together in a semicircle of floral-printed accent chairs, eyes, hearts and minds wide open, exploring and identifying the mental, emotional and physical circumstances surrounding domestic minor sex trafficking.

On Eagles Wings Ministries Director of Prevention Autumn Hanline oversees the chapters and created curriculum to coordinate with their monthly meetings.

Youth4Abolition’s January meeting discussion painted a picture of those most vulnerable to sex trafficking. Statistics provided by Girls Educational and Mentoring Services show that many victims are impoverished; living in single-parent homes, foster care or are runaways; and may be former victims of sexual abuse.

“The biggest misinterpretation is that people are forced in against their will. But more often, that’s not the case,” Padgett said. “They are coerced by the promise of protection and love.”

Fiona Glaser, a member, told the group, “There always seems to be something missing in their (victim’s) lives, and (the victims) are willing to do something else to get their needs filled. … It makes me want to do something, give them a hug.”

Shannon O’Grady, 18, attends Union Academy Charter School in Monroe. She’s been a part of this chapter since Padgett started it in March of last year.

“It’s really powerful to be a part of a group that teaches young girls becoming women about the realities of trafficking,” she said. “We are so vulnerable. Given technology and social media, it’s important to get this out there.”

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