From victim to advocate: Concord resident shares her trafficking story to help others (2024)

Christopher Miller

Haley Price thought she was in a committed and loving relationship when she met a man shortly after coming back to Cabarrus County from Appalachian State around 2009.

The man, whom she said was an Army veteran, gradually gained her trust to where Price, who struggled with low self-esteem throughout her life, felt like she was in control — even when she was being coerced into having sex with various men.

"He had talked me into essentially, 'If you love me, you'll sleep with my friends,'" she recalled. The presence of alcohol and drugs further dulled her inhibitions.

Several years later, with the aid of therapy and conversations with the veteran about the relationship, Price came to understand that she had never been in control and had been methodically groomed to do whatever was asked of her.

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"I've been told a number of things that were not true just in an attempt to keep me in a shame cycle," Price said.

She also learned she had been a victim of human trafficking, which is a form ofmodern-day slavery.

A person commits the offense of human trafficking, according to N.C. General Statue 14-43.11, when that person "knowingly or in reckless disregard of the consequences of the action recruits, entices, harbors, transports, provides, patronizes, solicits, or obtains by any means another person with the intent that the other person be held in involuntary servitude or sexual servitude."

North Carolina ranked ninthin the nation forthe highest rate of human trafficking casesas of last year, according to North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. The Charlotte metropolitan area, especially the Concord Mills area, has long been a hotspot with easy access to Interstate 85.

Cabarrus has been working to address the problem locally, havingreceived a $1 million state grantlast year.The grant created two full-time positions to be filled by experienced investigators familiar with human trafficking and child exploitation cases.

Price, 37, experienced trafficking by several other men over a five-year period (she cannot recall the exact number). Whenever her usefulness with one trafficker ran its course, Price would get passed on to another, and the process would repeat itself. In most cases, she never even knew the real names of the men who trafficked her.

"You're a tool, you're a work implement," Price said of her relationships with the traffickers. "And when something shinier comes along, you're replaceable."

Price’s experiences are not unusual. Hannah Arrowood, founder and executive director ofPresent Age Ministries, a Concord-based internationalnonprofit committed to combating the sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking of teenage girls, told the paper that traffickers tend tofollow the same playbook: They spent long periods of time gaining people’s trust and affection in order to manipulate and control them.

“We downplay the fact that what actually happens is there is now a trauma bond (similar toStockholm syndrome),” Arrowood said, which can be incredibly hard to break away from.

From victim to advocate: Concord resident shares her trafficking story to help others (1)

Present Age Ministries, which is a key partner with the Cabarrus County Sheriff's Office, is involved with various local and regional task forces and has footprints in Nicaragua, South Africa and Kenya. The organization has served roughly 700 human trafficking survivors since its founding in 2009, according to its website.

Price, who is still unpacking and making sense of the years of trauma she experienced, actively takes part in several state and national survivor networks and is dedicated to sharing as much information as possible about an issue that many people are still likely unaware of.

“I have a platform because of what happened,” she said. “Not everybody has their voice yet and I’m just big-mouthed enough to already have found mine. But that’s my responsibility — the responsibility to speak for those who haven’t found their voice yet.”

"You want to help somebody else so they don't have to go through the darkness by themselves," Price added.

She is concerned that with the county's rapid population growth along with a deficit in affordable housing, there could be more opportunities for vulnerable people to be exploited.

"Young people who are homeless in our area ... because they don't have adequate resources, they are susceptible; they become a victim pool," Price said.

Arrowoodtold the paper that as the county’s growth continues to outpace the availability of key resources, such as housing, there are ample opportunities for vulnerable people to be targeted. “I think that’s where you start to identify the gaps,” she said.

From victim to advocate: Concord resident shares her trafficking story to help others (2)

Looking back, Price, who was in her early 20s when she was first trafficked, acknowledges she was naive and desperate for love and attention, which made her an ideal target to be victimized.

Once she fully realized she had been trafficked, she struggled with how she repeatedly allowed herself to be tricked and manipulated.

"I felt stupid because I've always been the smartest person in the room," Price said.

According to Price, there is now a greater understanding and awareness of human trafficking compared to when she experienced it more than a decade ago. There has also been a greater understanding, especially with the #MeToo movement, of believing people’s stories of sexual abuse and exploitation.

Signs to look for

Still, there is a need for more work to help identify victims and save lives. According to theDepartment of Homeland Security’sBlue Campaign, which educates the public, law enforcement and other industry partners to recognize the indicators of human trafficking, somecommon markersto help recognize human trafficking include:

  • Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations or houses of worship?
  • Has a child stopped attending school?
  • Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
  • Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
  • Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?
  • Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?
  • Is the person fearful, timid or submissive?

“We have to do a better job educating and training the community, so we know how to identify it and can report it,” Arrowood said. It is especially critical that parents are aware of their children’s online activities, as “sometimes the most dangerous things are happening in their bedroom, through online technology.”

Therapy helped her recovery

Price credits her sessions with her therapist, which began around 2020, with helping her to grow and move on as best as possible with her life. She currently has a stable job working for a local chiropractic clinic and a 9-year-old daughter, who is “such a bright light” in her life.

"You can make progress," she said, noting it's not always linear and "doesn't go in a straight line."

She has learned to own her story, including incorporating parts of her past in her stand-up comedy bits. “The more I put it out there, the more somebody sees, ‘Maybe I’m not alone in what I’m going through,'” she said.

Price acknowledges that because human trafficking is such a societal problem, it will require an all-hands-on-deck effort to stamp it out.

“Everybody has to come together to fix and to stop this from happening,” she said. “We have to be a community in order to stop it.”

Find help

The National Human Trafficking Hotline can be reached by phone at 1-888-373-7888, by text at *233733 or online atwww.humantraffickinghotline.org.

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From victim to advocate: Concord resident shares her trafficking story to help others (2024)
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