Before Carla Tweddale started Lily Pad Haven, she thought slavery was a thing of the past. Now, after five years of running a shelter for women who have been victims of human trafficking, she knows that’s far from true, and she wants to inform as many people as she can.
At a luncheon Monday hosted by the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club, Tweddale spoke about the nonprofit and the form of modern-day slavery that thrives closer to home than many people realize. Here’s what’s important to know.
Q: What is human trafficking?
A: Human trafficking is defined as the trade of humans. Traffickers often kidnap their victims and strip them of any identification they have, thus controlling every aspect of their life, Tweddale said.
An estimated 80 percent of trafficking involves sexual exploitation, forcing victims to work as escorts, though forced labor is also a motive for traffickers.
Charlotte is a hot spot for human trafficking because of its proximity to Interstates 77 and 85, and its large conferences and sporting events.
Q: Who are the victims?
A: Half of global victims are under 16. The average age of entry into human trafficking is 11-13 for boys and 12-14 for girls. Eighty percent of sex-trafficking victims are female.
Children and teens who have run away from home are likely to be victimized – 1 in 6 United States runaways become sex-trafficking victims. But traffickers can also find their victims on school campuses, feigning romantic interest to teens who don’t feel like they fit in.
Some victims go willingly, at first, thinking they’re going to get a job, Tweddale said. They might call a phone number they see on an ad, she said, receive a bus ticket in the mail, and then go to meet the person who turns out to be their trafficker.
Human trafficking is the third-largest and fastest-growing criminal industry. It generates $32 billion annually.
Traffickers can make between $150 and $2,000 per victim. The average sex-trafficking victim is sold for sex between 25 and 40 times per night, Tweddale said.
Q: What can you do?
A: Lily Pad Haven consists of four houses that it leases from the owner for a nominal fee, each of which houses two women. It has to turn away between two and four victims a week, Tweddale said, because they don’t have room, so having properties donated or made available would help expand the services. The nonprofit also has volunteers that coordinate services and activities for the guests, and it accepts donations of food and grocery items.
“(The victims) need everything, so there’s not anything that we don’t need,” Tweddale said.
But awareness and prevention are key, she said. She encouraged people to report anything they see that isn’t quite right, whether it’s a person they see on a street corner every week who won’t take money or someone who lives and works in the same hotel.
Rachel Herzog: 704-358-5358, @rachel_herzog