May 23, 2017 – This week our club heard from Tim Young about Doors to Freedom. Doors to Freedom is a local nonprofit with a mission of supporting victims of sex trafficking. Young became involved with this local organization after his wife began volunteering there and he learned of the great need to assist these most vulnerable members of our community in a world most of us are not even aware exists to the great extent that it does. For many of us it is natural to think that slavery as a problem ended when the American Civil War ended. Yet Young noted that 27 million people are enslaved today.
There are two basic focuses of human trafficking in the world today – labor and sex. In the United States sex workers represent by far the largest number of victims of human trafficking and this represent the focus of the efforts of Doors to Freedom. Migration, civil conflict and natural disasters increase the problem of human trafficking. Internationally Young stated that there are three categories into which those who fight human trafficking place nations of the world. Tier One would be countries which have good laws already in place to combat slavery, Tier Two would be countries whose laws or enforcement structures are deficient and need improvement and Tier Three would be countries which have no laws to combat slavery and human trafficking. Most countries fall within Tier One, Young noted, yet still the problem persists. Despite the fact that the United States has strong laws in place nationally, the local laws often display and uneven patchwork. South Carolina did not have a local statute against human trafficking until 2012 according to Young and those found guilty under South Carolina’s law can face a sentence of fifteen years to life in prison.
As a general rule Young said that to prove a criminal case for human trafficking there must be force, fraud or coercion. One positive aspect of South Carolina’s law is that for victims who are eighteen or younger, these elements need not be proved. Additionally, victims of this age need not cooperate with law enforcement. Young explained that these provisions are important because often victims this young are not even aware that they are being forced or coerced into slavery. They have never known another way of life. They also most often are taught by those who enslave them that law enforcement is the enemy and these young victims may as a result be scared to assist law enforcement officials.
Young said we would probably be surprised at how close to home human trafficking hits. There is not a community in the lowcountry which does not have sex trafficking occurring – from Kiawah to Goose Creek to Sullivan’s Island and all points between and beyond. He said it occurs in hotels, clubs, truck stops, on the street and online. The Dee Norton Center found in 2016 that human trafficking in Charleston tripled in recent years – underscoring the need for an organization like Doors to Freedom. The two largest areas of criminal activity in the United States are drug trafficking and human trafficking and Young believes human trafficking will overtake drug trafficking in size within a couple of years.
Doors to Freedom serves girls younger than eighteen who are victims of sex trafficking. Most of these children enter the sex trade at thirteen years of age. While fourteen to sixteen thousand girls are brought into the United States annually for the sex trade, it is not a problem by any means limited to the migrant community. Many victims are trafficked by family member, even parents. Because these young girls are placed in this sex trade at such an early age, Young noted that most do not have the most rudimentary of life skills. It is the goal of Doors to Freedom to provide these girls with education, life skill coaching and personal growth so that they can escape human trafficking permanently and become functioning members of our society.
Generally, these young victims of human trafficking do not perform well in a traditional school setting. As a result, Doors to Freedom has its own school program for these children. Doors to Freedom uses a three phase process in assisting its clients. The first phase is to assess where the girls are at the beginning of the program. Most often girls come to them around tenth grade, but they test on a sixth-grade level. The second phase is to bring change into the girl’s lives. Because these girls have had all decisions made for them during their enslavement, making choices is not easy for them. They must learn decision making gradually and Young said it generally takes two years to bring the girls through this phase of the program. The third phase of the Doors to Freedom program is the transition of the client into the larger community ready for further education or employment.
Currently there are no homes for children who are victims of human trafficking in South Carolina and the children served by Doors to Freedom leave the school program each day to a home life which is tenuous. Often the girls return to the environment which placed them into the sex trade originally, which limits the effectiveness of the Doors to Freedom program for these girls. For this reason, Young said his organization can hardly wait for the opening of its full residential program which is expected to begin in the fall. Since Doors to Freedom began its program in 2011, it has helped 30 girls rejoin society, but the new boarding school program will no doubt allow this important organization to increase greatly the good it is doing for our community.
Submitted by Alex Dallis, Keyway Committee