Union County Weekly
WAXHAW – In response to the growing problem of human trafficking in the Charlotte area, Debbie Hancock and Kate Stahlman co-founded Compassion To Act, a faith-based nonprofit based in Waxhaw that provides a residential rehabilitation program for victims of human trafficking, as well as providing community outreach and raising awareness.
Stahlman and Hancock became friends over Bible study and found their shared vision during a missionary conference in Fort Mill, South Carolina in October 2010. Hancock said the mission speaker Heidi Baker’s message on the urgency of serving others struck a chord with both women. Hancock said they simultaneously felt called by God and agreed, “We are going to do this for human trafficking.”
They originally believed they would be working with trafficking victims internationally, but soon found out Charlotte was a major hub for human trafficking.
“Originally, we thought we were going to be in India or some place overseas and as we started studying and learning more about human trafficking, we found out that Charlotte is the No. 1 city in North Carolina for human trafficking and one of the top ten states of the nation for human trafficking,” said Stahlman in the following video message:
“God was clear to us in saying you need to clean up your own backyard before going over seas,” Stahlman said.
They spent the next seven months reaching out to local human trafficking organizations to learn as much as they could to better serve survivors of human trafficking. In May 2011, they held a conference at Elevation Church in south Charlotte, where 600 people and representatives from 23 human trafficking organizations met and listened to Ellie Collins, a former sex trafficking victim from California, speak about her personal experiences in the sex industry.
Since then, Compassion To Act has housed and rehabilitated seven women through “Compassion Cottage,” a four-bed, residential rehabilitation program for women 19 years old and older who are survivors of human trafficking.
“It’s about cultivating dreams,” Hancock said.
She said their program focuses on healing and providing victims the life skills needed to live independently and pursue their dreams after leaving the program. Matthews Free Clinic provides victims with free medical care and also has access to a local psychologist to help survivors overcome the psychological impact of human trafficking, which can include post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction and dissociative identity disorder, Hancock said.
Hancock said they decided to keep their facility small, only housing up to four women at a time in order to provide a familial experience as opposed to an institutional one. She said she encourages women to build a family connection with other survivors and the cottage’s full-time staff members.
Beyond building trust and relationships for healing, they are taught meal planning, budgeting, house keeping and job skills. They also apply for jobs and work towards a higher education.
Compassion To Act volunteers also regularly visit local strip clubs through their Third Stage outreach program. In the video recording, Stahlman said strip clubs are the prime location for procurers to look for women who are already vulnerable.
“We exist in order to serve, love and fully respect the women we come into contact with,” said Lacey McGowan, a longtime volunteer, said about her role with Third Stage.
Compassion To Act is working on developing a third program called Men of Compassion to combat pornography and the sex industry head on, said Hancock. They are recruiting small groups of men to stand up for the mistreatment of women by not actively viewing or funding the development of pornography.
“We want men to free the grips of pornography and sexual assault from our city,” Hancock said. “This is not to bring shame to men, but bring awareness to it.”
Compassion To Act relies on private donations from businesses, churches, organizations and individuals to combat sex trafficking. Hancock said they’ve been fortunate to have a great response from the community, but as demands grow they need more community support.
She also said they are always looking for volunteers to work in the house, work outreach at clubs and for men to become advocates for women’s rights.
“God gave us a number, we are going to rescue a million women, but we don’t focus on a million; we focus on the one. One at a time with intention,” Hancock said.
For more information about Compassion To Act, visit their website, compassiontoact.org/.