It's a form of modern day slavery and it's happening right in our own backyard. Human trafficking is the world's fastest growing illegal activity and North Alabama has become a hot spot for it.
The North Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force meets once a month. Pat McKay formed the organization in an effort to end the lucrative business of modern-day slavery.
"I've been doing this outreach to the community since 2009, it is growing, I see it getting more prevalent and that's why I try to work harder at getting the word out and raising awareness," McKay said.
Human trafficking means holding someone against their will for the purpose of engaging in sex for money or forced labor. According to the National Human Trafficking Hot Line, 68 cases were reported in Alabama last year.
"It could be a maid, a nanny, it could be an au pair coming from another country, or it could be someone from here being trafficked into labor servitude," said McKay.
The task force works with law enforcement to prevent human trafficking and teaches community members how to recognize the signs. Women and girls remain the most prevalent trafficking victims; however, victims come in many forms.
"There's no profile of what the trafficker is and there's not really a profile for the victim, it's male and female, different age," McKay explained.
The notion that most trafficking victims are violently kidnaped is false, “They're very, very smart, very manipulative," she said.
Many of them are trapped unknowingly. "They lure them mostly, they say that they're going to take them out to lunch, get their hair done, their nails done,” explained Lynn Caffery, Executive Director of Safe Harbor Youth.
“With a boy it may be different, lets go play basketball, lets do this, and once they're caught up in a snare, they can give them a drink or offer them some food and put drugs in it and next thing you know, they're going out of town to be trafficked," Caffery added.
Lynn Caffery is the Executive Director of Safe Harbor Youth. The organization works to get homeless teens off the street, before a trafficker gets to them first.
"We're a hub for trafficking, we're a hub for homelessness and youth. I've had them as far as from Florida, Uganda, and from Puerto Rico, Arizona, Alaska," said Caffery.
Caffery says a trafficker will approach a runaway within 48 hours of them leaving home. She has helped rescue hundreds of teens from sex trafficking situations. “I do a lot of work in the streets, in homeless camps, shelters, we get referrals from the FBI, homeland security."
It's work she's passionate about, because not too long ago Caffery was sold into modern-day slavery. "I started being trafficked when I was 11 years old, until I was 29," she explained.
Like many victims, Caffery was picked up by a trafficker, after running away from an abusive home. "My mother left me in a crib at six weeks old to die. The people was very abusive that took me. I lived in a bathroom and I was only taken out to be sexually abused. And then I ran away from home at 11 and a group took me in and they started trafficking me. I got away from them and hooked up with the Cartel and started trafficking guns and bringing back drugs in and out of Mexico."
Caffery said traffickers will use their victim to recruit others. "They send the kids into the schools to recruit other kids that come from unstable backgrounds, and dysfunctional homes, single parent homes."
The various interstates that connect Huntsville to major cities make it a hub for human trafficking. The Crisis Services of North Alabama offers their support to victims who end up here.
“We offer crisis counseling so if somebody needs help whether it's domestic violence, sexual assault, we offer that. We also have forensic nurse examiners on staff and what they do is if someone's been sexually assaulted they can come to us, we can get all the evidence, work with law enforcement if they choose to prosecute," said Becky Cecil.
Caffery is remodeling a home in North Huntsville, to provide housing to more trafficking survivors, like herself.
"I wasn't able to have kids because of being raped repeatedly and the beatings and my organs were scared tissue together and so I couldn't have children, but I have many now so it's filling that void as a trauma victim myself and it's also giving back."
Caffery is in need of more volunteers to help with remodeling of the recovery home. She also needs about $10,000 in donations to have the home finished within the next four months. If you would like to volunteer, call Caffery at (246) 426-0770.
If you or someone you know is caught in human trafficking, contact the Crisis Services of North Alabama helpline at (256) 716-1000 or (800) 691-8426.
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