As sex trade increases around conventions, faith-based groups step up efforts
A mobile billboard from Shared Hope International passes through Charlotte, North Carolina, during the Democratic convention.
September 6th, 2012
08:06 AM ET

As sex trade increases around conventions, faith-based groups step up efforts

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.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Human trafficking

soundoff (210 Responses)
  1. shraeve

    If we legalize it for consenting adults, the authorities will not waste their limited resources locking up consenting adults. There would be more resources available to help those who really need to be helped.

    September 6, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
  2. shraeve

    The author of this article is no journalist. The author just repeats the lies of the puritans without any critical examination. 100,000 children a year? Where are they? This is the age of the ubiquitous security camera and cell phone camera. We should be seeing exploited children everywhere. The cops should be rescuing thousands each month. Instead the police hardly ever find an exploited child in this occupation, certainly not compared with the number of consenting adults they arrest.

    The average of entry is 12? Even a little reflection shows that to be nonsense. If the average beginning age were 12, then for every person who enters the life at 18, six would have to start at 11, or one would have to start at age six! How many six-year-olds have you ever seen doing this? Or even 12-year-olds?

    The puritans are inventing these lies in order to mobilize public opinion behind their own ultra-conservative agenda.

    September 6, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Anna

      Yep,you think that cps would be bursting at the seams, I fear that before long we have to have permission to sneeze,It seams that there is always a "group"that wonts to make new feel good laws that really do nothing but make themselves feel better.

      September 6, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  3. Tr1Xen

    I'll bet the DNC brings quite a boost to the Charlotte ѕех trade–moreso than the RNC did in Tampa. After all, hооkеrѕ seem to follow the Obama entourage everywhere–even outside the country!

    September 6, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  4. Scott

    If the girls are being used, then shoot the pimp, if they choose that life, it should be their choice.
    Get the Goverment out of legislating morality, they are just bad at it.

    September 6, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      What if the girls are using the pimp?

      September 7, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Bill, you really have no concept of how the s3x trade operates, do you?

      Why don't you find out before you shoot your mouth off?

      September 7, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  5. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    September 6, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • Anna

      Then you will give these women job paying at least or better than what they are making?

      September 6, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • caw

      And forcing children to believe lies is 'good' for them?

      September 6, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • Prayer is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer takes people away from actually working on real solutions to their problems.
      Prayer has been shown to have no discernible effect towards what was prayed for.
      Prayer makes you frothy like Rick Santorum. Just go to http://santorum.com to find out more.
      Prayer prevents you from getting badly needed exercise.
      Prayer makes you fat, pale, weak, and sedentary.
      Prayer wears out your clothes prematurely.
      Prayer contributes to global warming through excess CO2 emissions.
      Prayer fucks up your knees and your neck and your back.
      Prayer can cause heart attacks, especially among the elderly.
      Prayer reveals how stupid you are to the world.
      Prayer exposes your backside to pervert priests.
      Prayer makes you think doilies are exciting.
      Prayer makes you secretively flatulent and embarrassed about it.
      Prayer makes your kids avoid spending time with you.
      Prayer gives you knobbly knees.
      Prayer makes you frothy like Rick Santorum. Just google him to find out.
      Prayer dulls your senses.
      Prayer makes you post really stupid shit.
      Prayer makes you hoard cats.
      Prayer makes you smell like shitty kitty litter and leads you on to harder drugs.
      Prayer wastes time.

      September 6, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • hal 9000

      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

      September 6, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
  6. Fred Evil

    Legalize it, it's not going away, and pretending it will is ignorant and counterproductive!

    September 6, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • Patrick in Wisconsin

      Legalizing slavery eh? Great idea. Because the state of the economy has been so terrible since the Civil War...

      September 6, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • Rich

      Why not? just like the rest of us wage slaves!!

      P.S. Tax Churchs, Mosqes & other religiious activities!

      September 6, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • shraeve

      Patrick is wrong. It is not slavery. There are many professional organizations around the world. COYOTE is only one of several in the USA. Almost every country has a professional organization for these women.

      Slaves do not have professional organizations.

      September 6, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • Keyser Söze

      When it is forced underground by religious nutters with too much influence in government, then the slavery occurs. Similarly, being puritan about legalizing drugs creates a violent criminal underground where there does not need to be one (notice there are no gangsters blowing each other up over alcohol anymore now that prohibition is gone?).

      Puritan prudery creates misery while trying to end it.

      September 7, 2012 at 2:31 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Fred's Amerika, legal prostiitution, free abortions, legal drugs, no churches. Whoopee!

      September 7, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  7. therealpeace2all

    Reblogged this on peace2alldotme.

    September 6, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  8. Anna

    A lot of women do this because the money is good they have to pay bills too ,these religous groups might mean well but they arent going to take these people in and pay for food,shelter, school,healthcare, so if it is between to consenting adults,go for it.

    September 6, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • gah

      the website in the picture is mainly focusing on exploited children. they shouldn't have to pay bills or rent, and they shouldn't be exploited. with a consenting adult, that is different.

      September 6, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Anna

      Gah.... Yes a picture is there to draw you in but you have to read the story, if they had found a 14 year old on the street doing this they would have called the police and if they didn't call the police who should then call cps then what kind of Christans are they to let a child be on the street.

      September 6, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • shraeve

      Anna, you are right about that.

      September 6, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • shraeve

      to gah:

      I agree with you 100% that children must not be exploited. But if you read the article carefully you will see that children are not the real focus. Instead child exploitation is merely a pretext for their real aim of controlling adults.

      The article makes it plain that the abolitionists themselves don't think there are many children doing this. The abolitionists are clearly targeting adults.

      September 6, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • sam stone

      i don't know that they mean well

      September 6, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  9. jim

    You wont see this on CNN because the suck the sweat from gay 0bama's little ballbearings....
    Secret Service: We‘re ’Aware‘ of DNC Delegate’s Threat to ‘Kill’ Romney

    September 6, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      LOL, The BLAZE?!?
      What a joke!

      September 6, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • sam stone

      wow, jim.....thanks for keeping us on top of such groundbreaking news

      September 6, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
  10. Lost

    Too bad men can't give birth.

    September 6, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • Comment

      It'll come. Just give it time. Scientists are hard at work.

      September 6, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • therealpeace2all


      Actually, as I understand it... It 'is' possible for a man to give birth.


      September 6, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  11. coloradom

    There are few things as bad as killing an innocent person...and this is one of them.

    September 6, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  12. Mr Chihuahua

    I want to rent your daughters lol!

    September 6, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Roallin

      I went to rent them too.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  13. Hankman

    We should be free to choose what we want .

    September 6, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Doodlebug

      The problem Hankman – is that the women you are choosing to do it with – most of them, the article is saying > did not choose....

      September 6, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • veep

      Nonsense, Hankman, it's illegal for good reasons.

      September 6, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • heyitshemme

      Cool, I choose to enslave you. Your house, money, cars, bicycles – all of your property. You're cool with that, right?

      September 6, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • BillyBob

      Do you have a daughter Hankman? Wife? Mother? How about volunteering them to join the s e x trade? Maybe your daughter could work at the s t r i p club.

      September 6, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • Patrick in Wisconsin

      I'm pretty sure no one in their right mind would ever want to be a slave.

      September 6, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Dubhly

      What are those good reasons Veep? did you know that the association of police chiefs recomends decrminalizing it? It would reduce the slavery part and leave it open for volunteers who want to work in that field. If regulated it cuts down on STDs, and provides extra tax income. It gets rid of pimps becuase they can go to the police if someone doesnt pay. it cleans it up, the only objection is o moral/religious basis. Hey dont worry though Sharia law forbids it too I think...

      September 6, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  14. Army Wife

    Hey...mb2010a... Bill is never too old. He has a hot blonde item in Chappaqua... get a life....

    September 6, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  15. smeeker

    At the GOP convention, the corporations provided the ladies of the night. On the other hand, it is congress who is for sale to the highest bidder.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  16. VICKY


    September 6, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • raymondvalitos223

      And where was this? (just kidding folks)

      September 6, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  17. relmfoxdale

    Loving the comments section, as always. As for legalizing, the Netherlands has been trying to cut back on some of its trade. It's not always a perfect solution.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Scott B

      There are no perfect solutions.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • shraeve

      The Netherlands has been trying to cut back, but not because of child exploitation, which is practically nonexistent in a humanitarian country like the Netherlands.

      The government of the Netherlands has been taken over by people with the same radical feminist agenda as those in Sweden, Norway, and Iceland. And it doesn't help that the Netherlands is being over-run by religious fanatics from North Africa and the Middle East, like the one who murdered Theo Van Gogh.

      September 6, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  18. Mystical Pizza

    FACT: Majority of pros t i tutes customers are Christians

    September 6, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • Rog

      Fact: some people like you cannot tell the difference between their opinion and an actual fact.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Paul

      That is absolutely false. The majority of customers are in China and India, where a quarter of the world's population lives, and where Christians are a small minority.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • therealpeace2all


      Actually, that was quite adroit of you. Taking @Mystical Pizza's statement 'literally' you responded 'literally.'

      I don't really know if @Mystical Pizza is correct or not in his as sertion, but very well could be given the overwhelming number and majority of our population in the ... **United States** as being... Christian. 😀


      September 6, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  19. dnokc

    Hello Charlotte...Bill's back in town...and Hillary's not around!

    September 6, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • FletcherFramer

      So, you're really not interested in protecting women, just mocking people?

      September 6, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • mb2010a

      Bill's getting a little old for that sort of thing anymore...I think you need to worry more about the tea baggers.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  20. newton

    Sounds like they are more interested in the local food, than saving our sisters, amen brother!

    September 6, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • shraeve

      Your sisters don't want to be "saved".

      September 6, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
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About this blog

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.