CRY FREEDOM: Courage and Compassion in Rescue and Recovery

CRY FREEDOM: Courage and Compassion in Rescue and Recovery

BY MELINDA SAMPSON

Beverly Weeks and Kelly Taylor of Cry Freedom are bold and full compassion.

They use that boldness and compassion to fight sex trafficking, but neither of the them see themselves as courageous in any way.

As Beverly would say, “who’s going to do it, if not us?”

With one gesture of kindness at a time, they are building relationships with trafficking victims across Eastern North Carolina.

They do not expect these women to come to them. The notion of a woman being trafficked or involved in the sex trade making a cold call to Cry Freedom for help is – in a way – kind of absurd to Beverly.

“You have to go to where they are,” she said. “You have to meet them where they are.”

Beverly and Kelly know to truly reach the women who need them, they must go to the lobbies of hotels known for prostitution and drug trafficking.

These hotels, with the constant comings and goings of johns, traffickers and drug addicts and dealers, are known in the community and by law enforcement as dens of crime and victimization.

Beverly and Kelly must sit there in the night hours and offer these women what they need – they offer free STD screenings, pregnancy tests, clothing, purses and other necessities.

They also offer them a relationship where nothing is expected – they are offering a hand to hold and a listening ear.

They only hope that one day, the women they reach out to will one day reach back to them for help.

Of course, Beverly and Kelly know in certain respects that this type of outreach comes with danger.

“There is a part of our work, where yes, you are at risk,” Weeks said.

“Pimps are not happy when you take away their livelihood. Drug dealers are not happy when you take away their livelihood. However, if we don’t do it, who’s going to do it?”

Beverly is right.

Experts in the field of human trafficking all agree – victims don’t self-identify; victims resist help; victims protect their traffickers for a plethora of reasons; victims don’t trust anyone, typically.

What’s more startling is that these same experts will say, unequivocally, that if human trafficking was not cloaked in the shadows and if traffickers (pimps) were called what they were, the statistics of domestic victims would likely skyrocket. 1

That is why Cry Freedom’s method of victim outreach is so effective and revolutionary in Eastern North Carolina, specifically.

She and her team go to where the victims are, and they go without judgement and expectation of rescue. They go to be there for them. They go to build a relationship and trust. And that, in many cases, is exactly what a person needs to take the first step toward freedom.

Cry Freedom doesn’t stop at the hotels.

When these people they have developed a relationship with are arrested – because in many cases they are arrested – on charges ranging from theft to prostitution, Beverly and Kelly meet them in jail where they offer education classes for men and women.

Cry Freedom, born about five years ago and operated out of the Wayne Pregnancy Center in Goldsboro, is an organization that reaches out with open arms to women (and men) embroiled in sex trafficking and the sex trade.

Beverly knows that entry into the sex trade is never really a choice.

“There isn’t a girl growing up that says ‘I want to be a prostitute when I grow up,’” she said with her head cocked to the side with an expression of absolute certainty.

“The girls that we are meeting in the hotels – and the guys, people need to be educated, there are guy prostitutes – what we were finding is that (the people) we were meeting (at hotels), we were seeing them in the jails,” she said.

“They were arrested for drug charges, prostitution – you know – stealing, that kind of thing. I thought this would be a way for me to continue that relationship with that girl and get her away from the drug dealer, away from the pimp.”

Beverly said she and her team went to local authorities and asked to be able to go into the local detention centers to teach women and men math, English, music, art, Bible study, parenting and life skills classes.

It is through those classes, and the relationships already developed through the hotel outreach, that has proven incredibly successful in making rescues.

“We are teaching in the jails every Thursday to the men and the women, and that allowed me to get that girl away from the pimp, away from her drug dealer, so that I can say, ‘Hey are you ready for a change? Do you want to go to rehab? Do you want to go to a safe house,’” Beverly said.

Cry Freedom, through this proactive and involved approach to trafficking victim rescue has been able to get between 13 to 15 people in safe houses or rehabilitation.

 

A painting hangs in Kelly Taylor’s office.

BUILDING A RELATIONSHIP

Going to where the victims are is paramount in getting them help and services, Beverly said.

It is all about building the relationship with women that need someone and providing them with items that have been lost or taken from them along the way.

“I went into the hotels and I said ‘Hey, Ms. Kelly and I are here today, does anyone want a free pregnancy test, free STD test? You know, does anybody need anything? We seek the hotels that are known for drug trafficking and prostitution,” Beverly said.

Each time they make a visit to a hotel, they build up their relationships with the women more and more.

In one instance, they followed one woman over a year’s time. In their initial contact, she was given clothes, a pregnancy test and a purse. The woman ended up in the hospital after a car accident.

Beverly stayed with her while she was being treated for her injuries, and when she fled the confines of the hospital – with an IV hook-up still in her arm – Beverly was there to find her.

It would be nearly a year later, Beverly tells me, that this woman would go to jail and rededicate her life to Jesus Christ. It would be one, solid year before this trafficking victim got into a safe house, and it was Beverly holding her hand all the way – right where she was – that helped get her in recovery.

And that is what it takes.

That commitment to these women is what pushes Beverly and Kelly forward.

“Can you imagine living a life, where all you know is sex trafficking and prostitution,” Beverly said to me emphatically.

I couldn’t come up with a suitable answer to that question because it is unimaginable to me.

“But now she is in a safe house,” Beverly finished, and in her voice, there was nothing but relief and a note of hope.

 

Kelly Taylor discusses the workshop and classes offered at the Wayne Pregnancy Center to women being served through the Cry Freedom Ministry.

WHAT CRY FREEDOM SEES

Substance abuse has become a scourge for Eastern North Carolina and a major contributor to sex trafficking.

Beverly said a majority of the people she is serving has suffered from a drug addiction – including male victims of sex trafficking.

Beverly explained that two men she served – who were from middle class families, because trafficking really does not discriminate or play favorites – became addicted to drugs and were summarily kicked out of their homes by family.

“They had no money for rent, they had no money, they had no clothes, they had no job and turned to prostituting themselves out,” Beverly said.

“Where it crossed that gray line, is when someone promises food, clothes, room and board in exchange for (sex).”

When Kelly speaks about substance abuse and addiction, she speaks about it with an understanding that nothing can truly change until the root issue of why someone is addicted to drugs is addressed.

“There is a reason someone is an addict,” Kelly said. “We need to find out why they are addicted to drugs in the first place.”

Beverly agrees immediately, “We have to get to the root of the problem.”

And this is true, too. As the opioid epidemic in the state becomes increasingly out of control, sex trafficking in relationship to opioids climb will likely climb.

A population increasingly vulnerable to traffickers are drug abusers.

A trafficker has the means to manipulate a victim with a fix.

Though studies are limited, there are a few that reflect how alarming the intersection between substance abuse and trafficking truly is.

In a Maine study, 66 percent of trafficking victims report that their substance abuse led to them being trafficked. In a broader U.S. study, 84 percent of victims reported abusing drugs while being trafficked.2

But those numbers mean so little, because Beverly and Kelly have seen the devastation of addiction, first hand, giving out clothes to one woman they served who was “high as a kite,” and accepting the fact that they need to carry Narcan with them when they do their hotel outreach.

When Cry Freedom does a rescue – whether it be in the jail or at a hotel – people who are addicted are offered drug treatment and then a chance to stay at a safe house in the eastern part of the state.

But Cry Freedom also does support groups at their office located in the Wayne Pregnancy Center.

Beverly Weeks, director of the Wayne Pregnancy Center and Cry Freedom, left, and Melinda Sampson, community outreach coordinator for ENC Stop Human Trafficking Now, pose for a photograph in the classroom/workshop.

SUPPORT IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

When I walked into the Wayne Pregnancy Center, it wasn’t what I had expected.

Instead of the alarming fluorescent lighting and stiff plastic chairs, I was met with something far more inviting. It felt like home.

The walls were painted in light pastels and softer colors and lined with inspirational paintings and quotes and words from the Bible.

The furniture is soft, plush and it feels like a place you can relax.

Of course, the office of the Wayne Pregnancy Center looks like this by design, with every piece of furniture, every color, every piece of art chosen with intention. It’s a place where women who need comfort, empowerment, help and recovery can go.

From the Cry Freedom office, Bible studies, parenting classes, sexual healing classes and other recovery classes are offered.

It is in this environment where women who have been victimized – and may still be being victimized – go to find a small bit of peace and empowerment. From that workshop, women in recovery make jewelry.

These women, who are certainly artisans, are empowered through making this jewelry. They are learning skills and that jewelry creation is also therapeutic.

Cry Freedom sells the artisan pieces to be able to fund sending their clients to rehab and help them with any other needs they may have.

And it is through Cry Freedom’s hotel and jail outreach, groups and recovery classes and jewelry-making workshop that leads to the healing of women who have suffered great traumas and hardship – and, hopefully, it can be a step in healing an entire community.

 

SOURCES

  1. National Human Trafficking Hotline, Polaris Project, https://humantraffickinghotline.org/type-trafficking/human-trafficking
  2. ‘Human Trafficking, Mental Illness, and Addiction: Avoiding Diagnostic Overshadowing,’ Hanni Stoklosa, MD, MPH, Marti MacGibbon, CADC-II, ACRPS, and Joseph Stoklosa, MD, director of HEAL Trafficking.

 

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