Human Slavery in Brunswick County Sparks Local Support Center
STATUSA helps victims of sexual trafficking and other types of slavery build new lives.
This may come as a surprise, but Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in our nation! Today, human slavery (or trafficking) is an internationally organized crime, generating $9.5 billion annually in the United States alone. North Carolina is eighth out of 50 states in the number of reported human trafficking cases. Brunswick County’s detention center in Bolivia currently houses women and men who have suffered such slavery and are accused of related sex crimes. If you were unaware of all this, you are not alone. However, local volunteers who combat modern slavery in Brunswick County want you to get smart about it, now, because they need the community’s support to end it here.
A secret location in Brunswick County is the site of the Stand Against Trafficking USA (STATUSA) Community Development Center. The organization is a modern-day nonprofit abolitionist movement. A small band of volunteers uses a vacated retail store as its headquarters. Inside are comfortable couches and chairs, racks containing baby supplies and food, and a private area for sensitive conversations. Founded by its executive director, Alyssa McKenzie, their objective is to promote awareness and prevention, collaborate with local law enforcers and other community-based nonprofits, and to protect the victims affected by trafficking.
STATUSA focuses on sexual trafficking, but there are also other kinds, including slave labor in restaurants, small businesses, agriculture and domestic work. There were 287 reported cases in North Carolina through August 9, 2019, which was a leap from the 126 reported through July 29.
This kind of slavery knows no bounds and includes men, women and gender minorities, adults, minors, citizens and foreign nationals of all races, colors and creeds. Mostly everyone is a target, according to McKenzie. She says traffickers don’t pay their slaves. They kidnap them, or buy them from smugglers, and put them to work. All financial gains belong to the traffickers. The enslaved victims lose all of their rights, even in this land of the free, and live in constant seclusion and terror.
One of STATUSA’s stellar interventions locally is a collaboration with the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office. As part of its Human Advocate Program, volunteers come into the Brunswick Detention Center weekly. They provide residents with intimate friendship, knowledge and resources to help them break cycles of incarceration, substance abuse and sexual exploitation.
“We do it through group sessions that help these ladies learn essential life skills,” McKenzie says. “We educate them about trauma and human-trafficking related issues.”
The organization is faith-based, and its advocates also pray with the residents, encourage them and help link them to more than a dozen community resources based on their needs and life goals. She says they are also starting a similar arrangement for male victim-survivors.
At its secluded development centers (there are two of them in the state), STATUSA provides ongoing support once the victims leave detention. This includes assistance finding work, transportation, personal coaching, life skills training, spiritual support, Bible study, unconditional encouragement and provision for other needs.
“We’re the bridge from lives of slavery and incarceration to a holistic lifestyle,” McKenzie says. However, she says the resources in Brunswick County are scarce, and there is not even emergency or temporary shelter for those hoping to start life anew. “If you can’t provide the basic needs of a person, you are not going to be able to fully help them heal,” she says.
While human slavery in one’s backyard may be surprising news for many people, it’s not for Carston Allen of Ocean Isle Beach. Allen has also been fighting trafficking in his own way for a number of years. He graduated from UNC-Charlotte in 2016 with a degree in philosophy and a focus on ethics. He says he started raising funds for Charlotte’s Justice Ministries after learning about Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein was a billionaire financier who had recently been in jail in New York on charges of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of underage children. He allegedly hung and killed himself in his cell, during this writing. He had been indicted for similar crimes in 2007 but received a federal deal, which netted him 13 months in a county jail on a work-release program. He was allowed to leave jail every day to continue his business.
Allen, who runs a surf school for kids in Ocean Isle Beach, says, “It gave me perspective on the issue and who is tied into it. The nature of it shocked me.” He notes that people of international fame and fortune are perhaps connected with Epstein’s purported Caribbean sex-slave island. These include a former U.S. President with a record of sexual misconduct, and a British Royal, both of whom deny allegations. Allen says he doubted Epstein killed himself and suspects he may have been murdered. “A couple of weeks ago he attempted suicide. He was put into 24-hour suicide watch. And he ends up being found dead by suicide? That’s a stretch for me. He had WAY too much information on people … to live.”
Allen donates half of the proceeds he earns over a one-week period to Justice Ministries. He also organizes an annual informational seminar in Ocean Isle Beach about trafficking, inviting his customers and the general public. He’s raised $2,500 over the past two years, which he says directly funds safe houses for women in Charlotte, the city has the most reported number of trafficking cases of any community in the state.
Allen says trafficking “is where evil and genius meet. You can’t even conceive of what these people do to other people.”
He just learned about STATUSA, and plans to look into that group, as well. “Providing information and funding goes a long way to fighting the crime,” he says.
McKenzie echoes that statement. She says the City of Charlotte is doing a fine job of providing services for victims, and the traffickers know this.
“So they are moving to places like Brunswick County, where people don’t really know about the issue and where they are more apt to get away with it because there are so few resources to aid the survivors. We’re here to let people know. My thinking is that if every community takes care of itself, we can start pushing back on this. If not, we are going to be stuck in a very serious cycle.”
Can you help victims of human trafficking?
STATUSA needs supplies and monetary donations to keep up this work. McKenzie’s contact information is (910) 368-7728 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
To speak confidentially about human trafficking with a non-governmental organization call: (888) 373-7888 or text INFO or HELP to 233733. To report suspected human trafficking to law enforcement, call (866) 347-2423, or 911 in an emergency.