Despite the growing awareness of sex trafficking in the United States, there are still just a handful of shelters for victims. Even the experts admit they're only beginning to learn how to best help them.
At the same time, grassroots activists are springing up in and around churches around the country. They want to help fight trafficking and many are interested in opening shelters.
CBN News recently visited one of the few faith-based shelters in the United States. Hope House is located in a remote area of North Carolina and its pioneering work in both finding victims and helping them recover is drawing attention.
Emily Fitchpatrick is the founder and president of the Asheville-based On Eagles Wings Ministries. After witnessing trafficking overseas on a short-term missions trip she felt called to start a shelter back home.
Alongside a group of supporters she founded Hope House in 2009. The voluntary program is supported entirely by private donations and its work is intense.
"You're dealing with a very hardened situation," board member John Parrish said. "You're dealing with the face of evil and it is just very, very hard."
"It's not about numbers. It's about one on one, it's about face to face," he said. "It's about one to two years that you're talking about in terms of redemptive process with this."
Hope House averages seven to 10 victims a year. They are often referred by law enforcement and come from all over the country.
They stay typically for seven or eight months. Staff and volunteers mentor and counsel them. They also help with home-schooling, driving to therapy appointments, and engaging in new-found hobbies like jewelry making.
The Long Haul
Fitchpatrick said she's often besieged by requests for information from church groups wanting to start their own programs. She emphasizes that the work is difficult and the commitment must run deep.
"You actually have more days when you feel like, 'Why are we doing this?'" she said.
A big reason is the severity of the trauma the girls have endured.
"We've seen girls that have had pimps that love them one minute [and then] are putting hot irons on their backs the next," Fitchpatrick said. "They tell us they've been locked in car trunks, burned with cigarettes, starved-only given Gatorade and saltine crackers because they were being punished."
Fitchpatrick said the aim with these victims then is to begin to stabilize them and help them learn healthy boundaries and self-esteem.
Ultimately, the staff hopes the girls will believe in Jesus Christ as the only one who can truly change them.
Calling for Hope
Fitchpatrick's desire to help trafficking victims led her to start a pioneering phone-call ministry last year called Rahab's Hope.
Rahab's Hope trains volunteers to make calls to girls advertised on Internet "escort" websites.
"The ad says they're escorts but they're not--so when we started looking at the ads we started getting really frustrated like, 'Where are these girls? Why are they on here? Who's controlling them?'" Fitchpatrick said.
"We saw ads that had young girls and their face was blurred, so to us that meant she could have been a minor," she explained."And we saw ads that said she was 19 and she looked every bit of 12 to 13 years old."
Volunteers with Rahab's Hope use a script that discreetly identifies the extent that a pimp may be controlling a girl. It asks questions like, "Do you get to talk to your family?" and "Can we contact anyone for you?"
Volunteers also work with a list of resources to provide to girls needing shelter or help finding a job or going to school.
They also rely on prayer partners that intercede for every call.
"We have to approach it very gently, very openly - just whatever your needs are, we're here," Fitchpatrick said. "If they're not ready to leave, there's nothing we can do about that.
"But I've had girls say, 'I'm not ready to leave but I'll take your number,'" she said. "And they've called later and said, 'I'm ready.'"
Rescue One by One
Many girls are not even free to talk, so controlled by their pimps that they have to hang up. But since it started last year, Rahab's Hope has spoken with close to 1,000 victims in 19 cities.
It partners with law enforcement and in the last year has helped rescue four girls.
Many are brain-washed and deny that they're even being trafficked. Others are able to admit the horror of their world.
"We've had girls who, as soon as we say, 'Is there anything I can pray for you?' burst into tears. 'I hate what I'm doing. I hate this,'" Managing Director Kim Kern said.
On the night that CBN News visited, Kern spoke with just such a victim. She told Kern that she's six months pregnant.
"That must be really hard to work when you're pregnant," Kern said. She was able to pray with "Ashley" and help her think through how she might get out.
After she hung up, Kern was overcome with emotion, telling her prayer partner "that was awesome."
The Marathon Journey
In an adjacent room, volunteer Michelle Kent encouraged another victim who shared her dream of getting out and going back to school.
"I can tell by talking with you that you're right on and you're a very smart woman and you can achieve anything that you would set your mind to. You know I can tell. I can hear it-I can hear it in your voice," Kent told her.
For both Rahab's Hope and Hope House, the journey of finding, rescuing, and beginning to restore victims is no sprint. It's more like a marathon for each girl.
The trauma they've endured is hard to imagine. But these workers say each rescue and restoration is worth the time and cost.
*Original broadcast January 9, 2012.