Most of us never notice the women who slip in and out of the shadows. They're the victims of sex trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery happening every day to countless women right here in Charlotte.
“It’s kind of like drugs. If you know what to look for, you’ll see it, but it’s very hidden,” Aimee Johnson said.
Johnson is the executive director of Justice Ministries Rise Up program, an effort aimed to help victims get away from their traffickers and on their feet.
“If you get pulled over and you have drugs and firearms in your car, you’re caught. But if you get pulled over and you have a girl in your car, a lot of times these girls will say that’s my boyfriend or that’s my friend,” Johnson said.
FBI Charlotte division Special Agent Shawnda Drummond calls on Johnson often.
“Whatever time of the day or night you call and say, I have a girl that I’ve recovered, she has no place to go and she needs something to wear right now, I cannot send her out of this room dressed in what she has, do you have anything,” Drummond said.
Many victims have nothing to their names.
“A lot of our girls when they come, they have just trash bags. And how inhumane is that to carry your life around in a trash bag, so we get them suitcases,” Johnson said.
Suitcases are just the start. Rise Up supplies victims with everything else they could need.
In their three short years of existence, Rise Up has helped the FBI and other agencies rescue 312 women from their traffickers in Charlotte and the surrounding areas.
“There are about 500 ladies on Backpage every day in Charlotte that we can gather. And most of them see about 10 clients a day, so if you do the math on that,” Johnson said.
Drummond says sex trafficking is a growing problem.
“Some of the stories that I hear, I will never forget. Some of the faces, I won’t forget,” Drummond said.
Johnson serves alongside Drummond and other federal, state and local law enforcement on the Charlotte Metropolitan Human trafficking Task Force.
Drummond must often say goodbye to the victims after their captors are prosecuted, but Johnson is there for the long haul, which is FBI Charlotte chose her for their annual Directors Community Leadership Award.
“I was shocked. Because I do this because I love it. I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Johnson said.
In the Spring, Johnson will travel to Washington DC to be honored by FBI director James Comey.
“She’s almost a miracle. And in many of these girls eyes she’s miraculous, the things that she’s done,” Drummond said.
Leaving a life in the shadows is an uphill battle for the women enslaved by their traffickers, but one that’s a bit easier with Johnson.
“I’m not here to condemn her. I’m not here to make her do something she doesn’t want to do, but that I’m someone who’s going to be an advocate,” Johnson said.
For more information visit http://justiceministries.org/
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