LAURINBURG — Stacie Phillips and Patti Crawford are walking from Gastonia to Wilmington to raise awareness about human trafficking.
But a stop in Laurinburg on Friday highlighted that the problem can hit closer to home than most people realize.
The women say sex trafficking is not just an issue in larger cities, but is as close as a store parking lot at the county line in Maxton.
“We asked around and everyone seemed to know about it there,” Phillips said. “We went in and talked to one of the men working there and he said it’s been going on for 15 to 20 years now.”
North Carolina is 10th in the nation for human trafficking, and the average age that children are abducted and forced into slavery is 10-14.
“Prostitution is linked to sex trafficking because generally the girls are forced into it under the age of 18,” Phillips said. “They are either drugged or forced into it and these girls didn’t ask for this, they didn’t choose this.”
The women hope their 220-mile journey — a Walk for Freedom — will raise awareness about the issue.
“We met so many people along the way,” Crawford said. “In every town people were pulling over on the side of the road or chasing them down through corn fields to let them know they support them and would like to donate.”
The proceeds from the Walk for Freedom will go toward safe houses, A Safe Place, Oasis of Hope and On Eagles Wings Ministries.
The walk began on Sept. 6, and the pair expects to arrive in Wilmington on Friday.
“At first walking 220 miles was the most important thing, but now it’s more like 220 people,” Crawford said. “There’s a person every mile that really touches our heart.”
For information on the issue, visit www.walkingforfreedom.org. There’s also an online auction at www.biddingowl.com/walkingforfreedom. An iPad Mini Gold is also being raffled off on the site.
Abby Hackmann can be reached at 910-506-3171.