Stolen Innocence: Agencies Hope DNC Will Bring Awareness To Human Trafficking
Charlotte, NC – Designer clothes, photo shoots and the jet-set lifestyle of high fashion are nothing new for Jillian Mourning. The stunning 24-year-old model and regional software manager is just as comfortable in the lens of a photographer’s camera as in a business meeting. But four years ago, there was no glamour when a different kind of camera forever changed her life. Jillian sets down her coffee, squares her shoulders and tells me how she became a victim of human trafficking.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines human trafficking as “recruiting, transporting, transferring, harbouring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them.”
Jillian became a statistic in May of 2008. The then 20-year-old had taken a break from UNC Charlotte to focus on modeling. She regularly flew to jobs and stayed in the same hotel as her booking agent. So, it was business as usual when he flew her to Scottsdale, Arizona and booked the rooms – or so she thought…
The first night in Scottsdale she woke up scared and confused. She says, “There was a knock at my door… And the next thing I knew *X (whose name is intentionally omitted from this article) had come in my room and you know, I was half asleep and half awake.” Moments later, Jillian says, two more men entered the room with a video camera.
In a monotone, void of emotion, she describes how she was tied, drugged and raped on camera. She says, “I was crying the whole time. I was like turning my face and keeping my eyes closed because I knew they were taping it.”
The next day numb, Jillian worked her modeling job with X right by her side. She was too scared to reach out and for the next two nights the scenario repeated.
When the trip was over, Jillian flew home and tried to live life as usual. She met once with X, begging him to destroy the videos. Instead, he tried to convince her to help him turn a profit and produce more. Shame and fear for the impact on her family stopped her from calling police. Years later the trauma came crashing back when she learned those videos were accessible for a fee.
“There’s going to be another victim. You have to address the demand,” says NC Stop Human Trafficking Director Charity Magnuson. The non-profit coordinates efforts between North Carolina’s anti-trafficking groups and offers education, prevention and victims-services programs. Magnuson says the only way to stop the crime is to educate the public and the johns. She says, “Even if you rescue people over and over and over again you’re just putting a Band-Aid on the problem.”
North Carolina ranks in the Top 10 for calls to the Polaris Project Human Trafficking Hotline. Magnuson fears crowds attracted to the glitz and glamour of the DNC will translate to a surge in trafficking, She says, “We know that traffickers are bringing their girls in to meet that demand. We just don’t know how many are coming.”
Magnuson says, many don’t want to recognize the problem on a local level. The agency reached out to more than 200 hotels in the Charlotte area, hoping to train staff and management on the signs of human trafficking. Although some hotels have in-house training, at last count, interest in the training offered by NC Stop was less than 10 percent.
Magnuson wants to end that apathy. This Saturday, August 25th NC Stop will bring together the more than 45 North Carolina anti-Human Trafficking agencies for the Pre-DNC Restore Freedom Rally. It’s a free event from 10 am – 3 pm at Good Shepherd Church at 11120 South Tryon Street, Charlotte.
Jillian is now part of the anti-Human Trafficking battle. Using her story, her connections and her business savvy, she founded All We Want is LOVE, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting human trafficking, specifically sex slavery. The agency is in its infancy, but Jillian hopes to raise funds and awareness. She says, “People think you have to be in poverty, you have to live in a third world country… There are no guidelines, it can happen to anybody.”
As for her former agent, X is serving time on an unrelated federal conviction. Jillian says dozens of girls have implicated X in similar stories. But, she still hasn’t gone to the authorities and believes that there are other victims who may have also been intimidated by X’s wealth and connections.
For now, Jillian says, All We Want is LOVE is her chance to heal. “Just that fact that I could potentially (keep) it from happening to somebody.”
Tips to the Human Trafficking Hotline can be made anonymously. If you have a tip, call 888-373-7888.
*The name of Jillian’s booking agent is not being used since he has not been charged in connection with her claims.