New Life Community Church’s Mission to Stop Human Trafficking

By Pat Johnson | Jun 19, 2019
Photo by: Pat Johnson Church member Shawn McKillop fills bags with soaps that carry the help line number. They will be given to hotel and motel managers to put in the bathrooms.

Little Egg Harbor — The thought of it is almost too much to bear: children trapped in the sex trade. There is a group trying to make inroads into this shadowy, criminal world by offering a small ticket of hope – a national help-line number to call tacked on the back of a small bar of hotel soap.

On Saturday, June 15, the day before Father’s Day, members of the New Life Community Church in Little Egg Harbor acted as hosts for church members from the Barnegat Bay Assembly of God, Calvary Lighthouse Church in Lakewood and the Abundant Life Church in Ocean View. A training session would take part of the morning; then the abolitionists would split up and travel to parts of the New Jersey shore to talk with managers of hotels and motels and drop off small cases of “hope” soap.

Pastor Dan McKillop welcomed the volunteers. This outreach was the second part of the partnership of his church and the Church and Community Abolition Network. In January, the church heard from the Rev. Mandy Bristol-Leverett about her mission to free children from sexual exploitation or human trafficking. The group also met and heard from a survivor who was trafficked from Tuckerton.

Volunteer Shawn McKillop said 1,000 volunteers across the state would be descending on five locations in New Jersey. The group at New Life Church had the territory from Point Pleasant down to Cape May including the barrier islands but excluding Ocean City and Atlantic City. Another two groups would be working there.

Besides the soaps, they would be given packets of information: a letter explaining the mission, a poster of missing children, red flags to look for and a card outlining warning signs of trafficking or sexual exploitation of minors.

McKillop said there are two types of modern-day slavery, or human trafficking, in the U.S.: trafficking for labor and for prostitution. There are three other types in the developing world: forced begging, often including maiming, children impressed into being soldiers, and organ harvesting.

Outside the U.S. forced labor is the number 1 offender with sexual exploitation second, but in the U.S. sexual exploitation is the number 1 and labor is second.

A question asked of 10 survivors ages 11 to 14 reveals how prevalent the problem can be. When asked “how I met my trafficker,” they answered, “At school, at the mall, through online gaming, house of worship, neighbor, friend, the park, job fair, a coach and a foster parent.”

A video talk by Theresa Flores, a survivor from Michigan, explained how a good kid from a nice family could become a victim of sex trafficking.

“I was 15 years old when a guy in my school asked if I wanted a ride home. He was always dressed nice in slacks and drove a Trans Am. He said three little words, ‘I like you.’ He said he had to get something from his house and a red flag went up, but I ignored it. Then he asked me to come in for a minute, and I ignored another red flag. He handed me a pop that was laced with something and then he raped me.

“I was a Catholic, and virginity was valued in my family. My mother told me a tough-love story that if I had sex I would get pregnant and would get kicked out of the house. So I didn’t say anything. A couple of days later I received an envelope from the guy. He said his cousin had been there taking pictures and I was going to have to earn them back, otherwise he would show them to my father’s boss, my church and friends. I had no idea what ‘earning them back’ meant. He also said if I didn’t do what he wanted, he would kill my younger brothers.

“So he would call me at night and I would leave the house in my pajamas and he would pick me up and take me to these opulent homes. I would be taken in a side door to a bedroom, tied up and tortured by men. This went on for two years. I often wondered what was happening in the other parts of these houses – were their families just like mine? Couldn’t they hear my screams?

“One night I was trafficked to an older man and he asked me, ‘What’s your name?’ I was not allowed to speak. My trafficker answered, ‘What does it matter? She has no name.’

“I was 16 years old.”

Flores said of the sex workers in the nation, 80 percent are victims and 50 percent are children. “It’s a misconception that this is a choice. And anyone under the age of 18 cannot make that choice. There are no child prostitutes.”

The FBI estimates that there are at least 100,000 American kids being sexually trafficked and 350,000 American youth at risk of being exploited.

“These children have no options; they are forced to have sex with 10 to 15 men a night. They have a 40-percent higher chance of dying by murder, drug overdose or suicide. Many are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder or Stockholm syndrome.”

Flores said she had come up with the soap idea while driving through Detroit, the city where she had been auctioned off to the highest bidder multiple times during one night.

She came up with SOAP, Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution, as a way to help children escape.

After this testimony, the volunteers split into groups to get ready to hit the streets.

Wildwood was the town the church members of the Abundant Life Church in Ocean View would canvass. Pastor Anna Nictorenko, Leann Marshall and Carla Cotton had eight motels and hotels to visit in the Wildwood downtown. It was a pleasant summer day; there was an American Legion convention in town, and they had a short parade. The streets were filled with vacationing families and couples, oblivious to the group’s mission.

Two of the group would enter the hotel, ask to speak to the manager, explain the SOAP mission and ask if they would help watch for the missing children on the poster. Indicator cards with red flags to look for in both English and Spanish were to be left at the front desk and also with housekeeping. The tip line, 1-888-373-7888 or text BEFREE, can be anonymous.

The other volunteer would wait outside and pray for their success. Nictorenko suggested the prayer “God, soften the hearts of the people so they want to help.”

At each motel on the Wildwood strip, the volunteers met with sympathetic managers.

“One of them thanked me because she said she had seen some suspicious activity and did not know what to do,” said Marshall. “Now we have given her the tools.”

On the way home, Nictorenko said she hadn’t known what to expect from the day but was reassured. “Most were shocked by it, but it’s good to know that there are people who care.”

As for the victims, the pastor said the testimony given by Flores was what gave her strength. Flores was a survivor, not a victim. “The power of Jesus helps them take the shame away. You can walk in freedom knowing you are a child of God.”

The next day word came from the Church and Community Abolition Network’s statewide SOAP mission: four children were identified from the missing children’s poster by hotel staff while volunteers were there (one in South Jersey and three in central Jersey), and two suspicious situations of minors being pictured posing provocatively by adults in hotels while volunteers were passing required on-the-spot reporting (one in the south and one in the north).

Nearly 100 percent of hotel staff received part or all of the supplies.

— Pat Johnson

patjohnson@thesandpaper.net

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