Human trafficking: Modern-day slavery in the Piedmont

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For many survivors of human trafficking, it starts with a promise of a better life. For a Winston-Salem woman, it started when a family friend in Mexico offered to bring her to the United States so she could finish high school.

“He said he just wanted to help because I was like a daughter for him,” Jenny said, now 21. “When we got to the apartment, it wasn’t what he said it was obviously.”

For the next two or three months, Jenny says the man basically made her his prisoner and sex slave.

“I didn’t speak English back then, so I didn’t understand anything,” Jenny said. “He said I couldn’t leave because he did something for me so I have to stay there and do whatever he asked me to do.”

According to Deputy Special Agent in Charge Joseph Gallion with U.S. Department of Homeland Security, that type of manipulation is a common strategy for human traffickers.

“They take the victimization out of what they’re doing and they tell you, ‘You’re the criminal because you’ve been smuggled into the United States,’” Gallion said.

According to local survivor advocate organizations, the Piedmont Triad is ripe for both labor and sex trafficking because of its location and major events, including the High Point Furniture Market and the ACC Tournament.

“It is slavery. For those of us who thought slavery was gone, it’s not. It’s just taken on a different form,” said Andrew Timbie, director of World Relief High Point.

In mid-April, agents released information about Operation Ayúdeme or “Help Me,” which led to the arrests of 30 people in Winston-Salem accused of running nine brothels in the city.

Deputy Special Agent Gallion said four women and one minor were forced to have sex with men for years before they could be saved.

“These types of criminal organizations and activities really deteriorate the under pinning of the community,” Gallion said. “The public needs to be aware of what’s going on. If they see those businesses where there are a lot of people and traffic and it doesn’t seem to be your usual run-of-the-mill business, don’t be afraid to call the tip line or local law enforcement. If there’s nothing there, there’s nothing there. You haven’t wasted anyone’s time.”

Jenny finished high school and is currently waiting for a Visa so she can begin looking for work. She is no longer angry at her captor but still struggles with fear.

“You never know if they're looking for you or trying to do anything because they're mad because you got away from them,” Jenny said. “It's hard to start building your life, but it's good there are people who actually care.”



  • Diane Purcell

    “They take the victimization out of what they’re doing and they tell you, ‘You’re the criminal because you’ve been smuggled into the United States,’” Gallion said. Sad, but thats exactly what it is when you enter a country illiegally…it’s a crime. There is more danger at stake than just being without a social security number, or risking being deported. This is why those that seek to enter the States need to do so legally .. to lower the risks of danger to themselves. Of course they want to escape and build a better life – I don’t blame them for that…but to smuggle into a country is dangerous … and this is only one reason why.

  • dobydog1

    they put themselves in this position. they know it is illegal to come here without the proper papers. if they had stayed home or come legally they would have been ok. I do not feel any more sorry for them than for a bank robber who is hurt in the commission of their crime.

    • Diane Purcell

      I DO feel badly for them when it’s young girls innocently believing that this wouldn’t happen to them, or those not warned or unable to get away from the situation. Much like any runaway on the streets…they don’t believe it can happen to them, then they are caught. It’s like modern day slavery – or the indentured servants that came over on boats across the ocean. Freedom is all they see – they don’t see the price or danger.

    • EricW

      I need to keep reminding myself that reading the comments on a news website is a massive mistake. Not only is “She had it coming” NOT a healthy response to a story like this, but you’re absolutely wrong that being legal is all that it would take to make them safe. Human trafficking happens to women that were born here and they don’t have to be “rebels” to get trapped. They just have to be vulnerable enough to believe the wrong guy and scared enough by his threats.

      Look up the case of Terrence “T-Rex” Yarbrough, who got busted in 2009. Read every detail, then take a moment to think about what you’ve said. Nobody should have to go through that, and absolutely nobody should wish it on another person.

  • Diane Purcell

    I think it’s far too easy to say – ‘they deserve it because their criminals for entering illegally” – and we forget these are human beings – caught in a situation that started with one wrong decision. None of us can say we didn’t make a decision that turned out badly at some (or many) times in life…this is a prime example of how badly it can turn. You’re absolutely right – this goes on everywhere – and it’s not just illegals that are willingly smuggled thinking they’ll have a better life. Many runaways find themselves in the same position, not to mention vulnerable women coming from abusive relationships stuck with yet another one and not knowing how to get out. Easy to say ‘shouldn’t have…” but the question should be how to help. Never wish ill on another person.

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