By Jen Christensen, CNN
Charlotte, North Carolina (CNN) - It’s 10 p.m. in Charlotte’s trendy NoDa district, and a handful of women and one man have hunkered down over French press coffee and caramel pastries that are so amazing the cafe’s owners were once invited to the White House.
These customers have gathered at Amelie’s, a 24-hour French bakery, with a serious mission. They want to end human trafficking.
As volunteers for Compassion to Act, a faith-based nonprofit, they meet regularly to discuss how to rescue and restore the lives of human trafficking victims. But with the Democratic National Convention gathered just down the road this week, they and other groups have stepped up their efforts.
They anticipate a greater need for their help.
More than 500 miles away in Tampa, a Christian ministry called Created also beefed up its volunteer patrols during last week’s Republican National Convention.
The group, which focuses on “vulnerable women involved in the sex industry,” immediately saw evidence the convention was in town. On their rounds, volunteers encountered a woman who looked out of place in too-nice clothes on Nebraska Avenue, a Tampa street notorious for its sex trade.
As they handed the woman a purple purse filled with supplies – a condom, some lip gloss, a stack of chocolate chip cookies and a phone number for help - she admitted she had taken a bus down from St. Louis when she heard there’d be extra work.
Groups like Created and Compassion to Act say they’ve seen this happen countless times. Whenever a large event comes to town - be it a Super Bowl, a NASCAR race, even a religious event such as Promise Keepers - the groups see a lot more men out cruising for sex on their city streets. The underground sex industry meets that demand - whether the women involved want to or not.
“People find a way to exploit a woman or girl’s vulnerability, whatever that may be, and they find a way to take advantage of that broken spirit,” says Kim, one of the Compassion to Act volunteers. She asked that her last name not be used because of the sensitive nature of her work.
“They force them into this life promising drugs, or nice clothes, or even something as simple as an initial boost to the girl’s self-esteem. She is manipulated to do this, whether the girl is aware or not. We haven’t met a single person who says they want to be doing this.”
A 2011 Baylor University study, “Men in Transit and Prostitution: Using Political Conventions as a Natural Experiment,” examined the number of online ads for commercial sex during the 2008 conventions. It found the number of ads in the host cities rose by 30%.
The anti-trafficking group Shared Hope International says the problem gets worse during large events but is always present. The group assesses state laws aimed at trafficking and issues report cards: Florida earned a C; North Carolina got a D.
To fill in the gaps left by the states, volunteer groups work to raise awareness and conduct street outreach to help the women involved.
To catch the attention of the country’s leaders during this year’s political gatherings, Shared Hope rented mobile billboards and drove them around the convention sites. Volunteers hope delegates will notice their campaign’s startling image: A man with a beer belly opens his suit jacket and reveals RNC and DNC tie tacks on his tie. The words next to him read, “This man wants to rent your daughter.”
“Our message is not to accuse America’s political leaders of engaging in the commercial sex industry,” Shared Hope founder and president Linda Smith said in a statement. “On the contrary, we are asking them to no longer be disengaged on the issue.”
“As the leaders of our nation, we need lawmakers to stand against the driving force of the illegal commercial sex industry that claims thousands of American children each year,” said Smith, a former congresswoman. “That driving force is demand.”
Experts estimate that 100,000 children a year are exploited in the U.S. commercial sex industry, according to Shared Hope. The average age of a child first exploited through prostitution is 12, the group says.
To counter the demand, Compassion to Act has beefed up its boots on the ground in Charlotte.
After planning their strategy over coffee and pastries, Kim and fellow volunteer Aimee hit the city’s strip clubs, where they’ve built fragile friendships with the dancers.
On their weekly visits, the volunteers are invited into some of the dancers’ crowded dressing rooms. Kim and Aimee offer to help with whatever the dancers may need – food, a ride to a doctor’s office, even school supplies for their kids.
“We listen. We make sure they know they are loved,” Kim says. “And when they want out, we have the resources in the community to help them do that.”
Back at the bakery, group co-founder Debbie Hancock sits with her iPad and scours the property ads looking for suspicious rentals. She discovers a listing for a mansion renting for the week of the DNC for 16 times its usual price. “That doesn’t look right,” she says.
Upon such discoveries, Hancock and Ish Payne - a retired cop who also helped found Compassion to Act and has written a book on the subject - will either alert local police or conduct their own surveillance at a safe distance, watching to see what kind of traffic goes in or out.
“If there is a lot of traffic right before work or on people’s lunch breaks, cars with out of state tags – these are some of the red flags,” Aimee explains. Sure it could be a legitimate rental - a political big wig in town for the convention, for instance - but it could be something different. “Temporary brothels pop up even in the nicest neighborhoods, and in the Charlotte area authorities do want to know.”
Some cities are better than others at cracking down on the illegal sex trade during these large events.
Abby Kuzma, a lawyer with the Indiana attorney general’s office, says Dallas came under a lot of intense criticism for an uptick in the sex trade when it hosted the 2011 Super Bowl. After her office learned Indianapolis would be the next host city, it put together a coalition of city leaders and about 60 nonprofits and immediately reached out to the host committee.
“We first told them it is not the Super Bowl per se that attracts human trafficking,” Kuzma said. “It’s any large event where there are a lot of men - like you have with the political conventions now - who are frankly looking for a good time.”
The Indianapolis coalition trained hotel staffs, local volunteers and cab drivers, teaching them what to watch for and who to call for help. Another nonprofit, the S.O.A.P. Project, stuck a national hotline number on the bars of soap it handed out to hotels so victims could call for help from the privacy of a bathroom.
This proactive approach was so successful, Kuzma says, that they saw immediate results. The number of online sex ads went down. And men seeking illegal sex warned each other online to stay away from Indianapolis.
“The demand went down because the men were feeling Indy had a negative atmosphere for the sex trade,” Kuzma said.
It’s unclear what strategy Charlotte has in place. City officials told CNN they weren’t commenting on this type of policing for security reasons. Compassion to Act, which says it has good relationships with law enforcement, was told there is a plan in place for the DNC but couldn’t be given details, again for security reasons.
In Tampa, Created heard something similar, although Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told CNN police would be too busy during the conventions to raid strip clubs.
In both cities, the groups decided to step up their presence. Indiana’s Kuzma says that’s a good idea.
“Certainly the nonprofits help a lot,” she said. “Law enforcement is overwhelmed dealing with crowd control and other security issues. Throw in human trafficking, and it can be a lot to handle.”
On Monday night, while Compassion to Act volunteers talk about how they can do even more during this week’s convention, Debbie receives an urgent text from a minister. He’s been working with a trafficking victim and wants to know if the group can help. Having prepared for this week, the answer is yes – and they begin arranging emergency shelter for the woman.
“Sometimes this problem with human trafficking feels too big and overwhelming to stop,” says Kate Stahlman, another Compassion to Act co-founder. “But then God always finds a way to let us know – even in small ways – that what we do matters.”
Very curious topic
I will continue to pray for the victims around the world who are enslaved in the many different trafficking industries.
And I will also pray for every "smart person" that commented on this article. If you've only every studies one religion or never learned about Jesus Christ please take the opportunity to learn exactly what you are supporting and insulting before you say it because it makes you look very ignorant and child like when you say things that makes little to no sense at all.
Because Christ die for everyone who ever walked this earth but it is your choice to get your life right before a Holy God other wise you will spend eternity in Hell, asking your self why did I never listen???
Legalize it, License it and Tax it. That way we won't have these problems.
It the same effect we saw with prohibition of alcohol. When its illegal its in the hands of criminials.
Chaney shot his friend in the face, but our beloved Commie ex-President shot his intern in the face.
Jonathan Pollard should be executed for treason.
I was having trouble with money and the hubby wasn't making enough so I went to a couple of these and I actually did earn some money. The guys were all azz holes though some even said I was ugly and but there wasn't anyone else available so they picked me. I can find easier low life's to serve on my back I don't need this. Made some connections and took some pictures so that I can call in a few favors later. They are so stupid I had them so wrapped around my fingers.
The grammar suggests your an imposter but you have drawn some attention to the very ugly side to the whole business.
I didn't have a problem with the article, disturbing yes but I understood much of this already. What made me ill was/is the comments in this section.
Amen STINGER: I agree with you. The responses to this article are appaling. What is this country coming to?
Like my Little Granny used to say, "This country is going to hell in a handbasket."
מלחמה בלתי נגמרת
Well to be honest if I we're younger....
I understand some of these ladies make a pretty good living,maybe we should as one poster put it stop trying to legislating morality.
Yes and simply mandate federal program s to deal with the consequences
This is the Oldest profession known to mankind. I have known a number of Escorts in my line of work over the years (No, not as a client – LOL) and I can safely say that around 60 percent of the women were quite happy making a living this way. When I suggested they return to college and get a career, many would say that doing this beats working a 9-5 job.
Am I the only one that finds it odd that they gave these women lip gloss?
LIp gloss? Fvck!! Where the fvkc is MY lip gloss, you azzholes?
I believe is saparation of church and state. Mainly so we can all see what people will do in the absence of religion. Here are two political parties that are attracting secks traffik even before religion got involved. But it's an old story. If one reads about the American expansion into the West, the scenario runs like this: free land became available, gold, coal, or oil was discovered. First came the greedy, then the theives, swindlers, and "business" ladies, murderers, etc. Later, when religion showed up, things improved. Another case: the country represented by these two parties has dropped more bombs on other countries than any nation in history – ordered, bought, and paid for by SECULAR gubment.
Perhaps a class in spelling or how to use a spell checker is in line before you start preaching.
Yet these same people who feel so strongly about human trafficing blissfully go to Mall Wart and buy all the cheap plastic crap that is made in China from prison/child/exploited workers.
If a gal wants to make a few bucks on the side, these sanctimonious do gooders get in the way by calling it 'human trafficking'. Boooo! go lead your life not that of everyone else
And if they get pregnant, just kill the baby! Right Tommy?
DOES HE AND THE REST OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE
WANT THE TORAH?
DO THEY WANT THE ISRAELITES, THE LEVIHIM AND THE KOHANIM AND DOES THE WORLD AND WILL YOU PLEASE
ASK MR. ROMNEY, AND HIS CONVENTION THE FOLLOWING QUESTION.
WE THE ISRAELITES, THE LEVIHIM AND THE KOHANIM
WE WANT TO GET PERMISSION FROM THE WORLD TO
BUILD THE 3RD TEMPLE.
WE WANT TO ADVANCE THE EDUCATION TO THE WORLD
THROUGH THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
THE TEMPLE INSITUTE IN JERSUSALEM WILL HELP THE
MINISTRY OF EDUCATION IN THE UNITED STATES WITH
MR. ROMNEY THE FOLLOWING QUESTION IS DIRECTED TO YOU.
DO YOU MOURN THE DESTRUCTION OF THE SECOND TEMPLE AND WILL YOU ALLOW THE ISRAELITES, THE LEVIHIM AND THE KOHANIM TO SERVE HASHEM IN THE LAND
PLEASE ASK THE CANDIDATE THE FOLLOWING QUESTION.
JONATHAN POLLARD HAS SPENT ENOUGH TIME IN PRISON.
IT IS TIME THAT HE IS PARDONED.
WILL THE PRESIDENT PARDON JONTATHAN POLLARD ON
THE PLATFORM OF HUMANITARIANISM
WILL THE AMERICAN PEOPLE AGREE TO LET
JONATHAN POLLARD GO BACK TO ISRAEL
WITH HIS WIFE ESTER AND LIVE THEIR LIVES IN
ISRAEL ONCE IF POSSIBLE THE PRESIDENT
AND THE AMERICAN PEOPLE AGREE TO THIS.
LET MY PEOPLE GO. PLEASE PARDON JONATHAN POLLARD
This Jonathan Pollard is a traitor to the U.S. And a highly unstable lout to boot. Keep him locked up.
And just google Richman and "red cow" to read more about this nutball.
IMMEDIATE NEWS RELEASE
Rabbi Chaim Richman answers President Obama's Cairo speech
WORLD VS ISRAEL. HILLARY CLINTON-THIS IS A MESSAGE FOR YOU – LET MY PEOPLE GO. FREE JONATHAN POLLARD NOW. LET MY PEOPLE GO BARRAK HUSSEIN OBAMA – NOW!
The Land of Israel is the Promised Land given to our forefathers Abraham Isaac and Jacob and is given to us, their seed, as an everlasting Inheritance.
PLEASE PLAY ON YOUR NETWORK NOW
THANK YOU IN ADVANCE
Jonathan Pollard is a highly unstable traitor to the U.S. Keep him locked up.
REpublicons is FOR personal freedom EXCEPT for when woman deciding how to use her mind and BODY :-)
Then they are for personal freedom again, just behind closed doors though. Wakka wakka!
The woman road a bus all the way from St. Louis to Charlotte because she thought there would be a lot of business there. She is not being exploited. She is using the assets she has to make money. Leave her alone. Its her body, her life. Let her do with it what she wants.
Freedom means allowing people to make their own choices good or bad. It also means they suffer the consequences of them. Good or bad.
Prayer changes things
Hogwash. Prayer is a placebo. I've been an atheist since childhood and I'm a healthy and productive human being. We are legion.
Prayer to what, whose God?
There's thousands of different faiths, each praying to their own Gods.
Do you pray to Zues? How about the Sun God Ra? Why not? By your own logic, you're missing out on changing things for the better by not praying to them.
Why are you the religion you are? Because your parents/family/society were that religion. If you were raised in a different society/family built on a different religion(Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece etc) you would not be Christian and you will pray to a different god. It's complete B.S. and deep down you know it is.
I'm sorry "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but you assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book might help you overcome this problem:
I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
by the Alzheimer's Disease Society
Haha you sound like a Hitchens fan, good man
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.