First of a Three-Part Series
Beverly Weeks’ role beyond executive director at Wayne Pregnancy Center can be boiled down into two hard-hitting words: crisis ministry.
It’s not a 9-to-5 job, and it definitely isn’t pretty or glamorous.
Weeks, along with her staff and fleet of compassionate volunteers, may find herself in life-threatening situations that could range from getting a victim of sex trafficking to a safe house in the middle of the night to taking food and provisions to local hotels with reputations of having drugs, prostitution and gang activity.
Acknowledging that all these things exist in Wayne County is not exactly polite dinner-table conversation. But Weeks is not one to shy away from the topic, since it represents human beings who need help.
North Carolina has the eighth highest reported number of sex traffickers, she says, readily backing it up with factors that make this area a target, such as major highways like U.S. 70, and interstates 95 and 40; and access to coastal waterways and military bases.
But the glaring realization underlying human or sexual trafficking, prostitution or any acts that lead to arrests and jail time, is that the majority of cases can be traced back to other contributing causes.
“Actually it’s through violation, molestation, separation in the family, they become vulnerable to predators, they feel worthless,” said Jonathan Chavous, assistant director of Wayne Pregnancy Center and Freedom Missions. “There are people out there that would know what to look for and they pinpoint those people in our society and use them.”
He has worked in overseas missions and with an organization, Hope for All Children, which tackles human trafficking.
Runaways, the LGBTQ community and migrant workers are particularly susceptible to becoming trafficking victims, Weeks said.
“Those are the people that these predators like to prey upon,” she said. “Over 90 percent, this is mind-boggling to us, over 90 percent that we have in jail have been violated sexually — raped, prostituted, molested — and turned to drugs to numb her pain. What these traffickers or pimps do, they provide drugs.
“These girls feel there’s no way out.”
For Weeks, the heightened awareness and connection to some of these issues locally began about two years ago. She encountered a young woman who had been living on the streets, staying at the occasional hotel or in an abandoned house.
When the woman came to the pregnancy center, she had no identification, not even a purse.
Gradually, over time — and by relationship-building and providing food and shelter — the woman began to open up.
“She began to share how she had been sex trafficked and in a life of prostitution, not by choice — no young girl grows up saying they want to be a prostitute,” Weeks said.
As with other clients coming to the pregnancy center, staff also made some observations.
“What we were noticing is that occasionally we would have women come through the doors with no ID on them. They all looked malnourished or were wearing the same clothes,” Weeks said. “The fact that these women had no ID, that was concerning to us.
“And occasionally, there would be a man to come with them so they were very guarded about what they (the women) shared with us.”
It can be a red flag, Chavous explained, since victims of human trafficking are kidnapped, drugged, beaten or repeatedly raped. Others are forced to do drugs and because they are isolated or at the mercy of someone else, wind up doing illegal things to get the money they need. Many wind up in jail.
What isn’t as visible, though, is the story behind it, Chavous said.
“The enemy wants to destroy people’s lives — make them untouchable, unreachable and unlovable,” he said. “Our task in bridging that gap, we’re going into the hotels, to the jails as well.”
Their team began going to some of the local motels, handing out food, clothes and offering free pregnancy tests, any type of resource as an introductory contact, and to let them know somebody cared, Weeks said.
She recalled one of her first and most memorable encounters.
“We were at a local hotel and this young man came running toward our van. He said, ‘Hey, you’ve gotta save him, my friend, he’s dead,’” she said.
They were led to a young man probably between 16 and 18 years old, Weeks said. He was lying motionless on the hotel room floor.
“He literally was taking his last breath,” she said.
“When I arrived, he’d probably had about five breaths per minute,” Chavous said.
Weeks said she still vividly recalls details of that night — the stench, feces on the floor, open needles everywhere, some with drawn blood still inside them. It never occurred to them that they had just been exposed to a powdery substance that could kill them, she said.
“I don’t think we even thought we had put our lives in danger, that we were putting ourselves at risk,” she said. “The first thing that came to mind was not, this guy deserves what he’s getting. No. 1, he’s got this beautiful young girl who was also between the age of 16 to 18, lying right beside him passed out from a drug overdose. So it didn’t come to my mind, well, he deserves what he’s getting.
“I think the first thing, if we were to be honest with each other, that came to our minds was that this is somebody’s son; this is somebody’s grandson; even somebody’s father — and if it weren’t for grace, could that not be my son? Could that not be your son?”
Their response, she said, is to follow Jesus’ example in the Bible, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
“They’re us; they are our children; they are part of our community,” Chavous said. “As a community, when we take ownership. It’s not just them and us — it’s us, that we begin to look at life differently.”
When thinking and talking about poor choices and poor decisions, we are all just one decision away from changing the rest of our lives, Weeks said.
So whether it is a drug addict or a runaway, someone struggling to survive or sleeping on a park bench, at the very least it should evoke a tug of compassion.
HUMAN TRAFFICKING AS A BUSINESS
Prostitution and human trafficking are more than a flawed choice. For some, it is also big business.
“Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry now,” Weeks said, explaining just one reason why it is more lucrative than drugs. “You can sell a bag of drugs just one time but you can sell a human, you could sell that girl or that guy that you’re sex trafficking, over and over and over again, and the likelihood of that pimp or that sex trafficker being caught, he is more likely to be struck by lightning than he is to be caught and charged.”
There are many reasons for that, Chavous said, one of the main ones being that the victims are required to do illegal activity. That just adds to the fear and inability to tell anyone or seek help.
That is, again, where the faith element comes in.
For Weeks, it is a ministry, even when it involves elements of risk.
“We recognize there’s always that threat, too, any time when we’re rescuing a girl or any time we’re transporting somebody out of jail, or any time that we’re taking a gang member, we do recognize that there are those threats, even against our own lives,” she said. “But the way we look at that, if we were not doing it, if we were not going, if we were not saying, you know what, I’m willing to lay this on the line to help this individual, who would go?
“Who would be the one that would say, you know what, there’s an opportunity for you, there’s a chance for you? And so, fear can be a powerful thing.”
FROM A NEGATIVE TO A POSITIVE
Fortunately, for Christians and people of faith, Chavous says, the negative can also be turned into something positive.
“Fear is what the devil used to control us, but the opposite of fear is not ‘I’m bold,’ it’s love,” he said. “So what we’re doing is we’re saying love is more powerful than fear. And that translates to very real-life relationship, because when you’re willing to push past what others would be afraid of and love me enough to speak truth to me, to help me, to encourage, to get me out of situations, that’s why we’re able to build these relationships so fast because love really does translate when they see genuine, authentic care.
“That is so powerful because the greatest need that every human being has is not food, it’s not shelter — it’s the need to be loved. And when you meet that need that does something deep to the soul, and it’s able to break them out of whatever bondage, whatever dark hole they’ve crawled into. Love is able to bring them out.”
Wayne Pregnancy is not alone in its fight to eradicate or, at the very least, make an incremental difference in the staggering numbers of human trafficking victims. It has also partnered with local and national agencies, as well as law enforcement, attorneys, and doctors in doing this vital work.
In Monday’s News-Argus, you’ll read about a local effort through Wayne Pregnancy and its partnership with the local jail.