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Human Trafficking in the Carolinas, Part 3

A Charlotte Woman's Journey from Enslavement to Salvation

Human Trafficking is happening in our community. It’s a fact we must face, the FBI says, in order to put an end to it. WBTV’s special, Human Trafficking in the Carolinas, focuses on one woman’s journey from being enslaved for sex, to her rescue and salvation.

“I just cried out to God and I said, ‘Can you help me? If you hear me, help me. Please,’" Joy told me. We’re only using her first name to protect her.

Joy is now free from the pimps who controlled a good part of her life. It was a life no one would have expected for the beautiful little girl who grew up taking dance lessons and mastering the piano in Aiken, South Carolina.

“It could be anybody. It could be anyone,” Joy said while fighting back tears.

Joy was one of four kids, adopted to loving parents. But like most teens, there were some rough years. Joy was 18, on her own, and money was tight. She had no idea just how bad her life was about to get.

“I was in a club one night and I was struggling with trying to make ends meet. This girl in there came up to me and said, 'Aww, you're pretty' and she pulled out like two or three thousand dollars,” Joy said, describing the encounter.

Joy had no idea she had been targeted. In no time, she was under the control of a pimp, also called a “Daddy,” in the trafficking world. She was being fed a constant diet of drugs and fear.

“When you see someone who is ‘working’ for him and they try to leave and he beats them nearly to death, no you don’t try to leave,” she told me when I ask why she didn’t run.

For years she was trafficked across many states and through many cities. “The Game,” as she calls it, was very structured.

“These were businessmen who thought about making money all the time,” Joy said describing the kind of men who were running the game.

Big sporting events were always where the pimps wanted to take their ‘teams’ as they called them. Even though there were usually six girls per team the women, Joy says, were kept apart.

“I've had "Daddy's" where they don't even let you talk to one another. Like, I was actually here in a hotel in Charlotte and I tried to say something to one of the girls and he slapped me,” Joy said.

She believes they didn’t want the girls to conspire an escape or become a comfort to one another. They wanted their victims to be afraid all the time, according to Joy.

Once she was being trafficked, Joy says drugs became her only escape from a living hell.

“Nobody can do this sober, nobody can. It's terrible,” she cried. “Because if you're actually present all the way when you're doing this stuff, you would go crazy. You have to have some way out.”

When I asked Joy why she didn’t leave, she talked about beatings, and security guards with guns. She said she had no access to the money she was making for her pimp. She felt totally trapped.

It was a stay in Charlotte when Joy thought her life would end.

“I saw like guns and drugs and just, insanity. I was just like, ‘I'm going to die. I'm going to die.’ So, I went in the bathroom and I just cried out to God,” Joy remembered through a steady stream of tears.

It would be two days later her prayers would be answered. She went to a hotel on a call.

“I got off the elevator and knocked on the door at the hotel thinking it was going to be a John. This man answered the door and it was the FBI,” Joy said.

Exhausted and high on drugs, Joy said she couldn’t understand what was happening.

“I remember I was just scared, really scared. Scared because I didn't know if I was going to jail, but scared because I didn't know if the pimps would come in and shoot everybody. And also, a part of me was relieved,” she said.

The agent told Joy there were two women who wanted to see her. Aimee Johnson and Lanie George then greeted Joy.

"Lanie said, 'God sent us here to tell you that He loves you and this is your way out.’" Joy cried as she recalled that moment.

Johnson and George were with Justice Ministries, a local organization that has worked with authorities to help women rescued from human trafficking.

Lanie George remembers that first encounter with Joy.

“There was something about Joy you could just see - a desperation, a cry for help,” Lanie said.

Like most victims who are practically brainwashed in the process of being trafficked, Lanie had to explain to Joy that she was in fact a victim, and that through their ministry they would help her.

"I had never heard that term - trafficking, or trafficked. I just thought that was hustling, I was just trying to survive,” Joy said.

Lanie George understands. She says she was trafficked off and on throughout most of her young life. She’s been working with trafficked women for over a decade. Lanie’s home is where Joy began the process of healing.

When I asked Joy what Lanie’s home means to her today, with so much time since her rescue, she smiled and told me.

“If I wouldn't have come here I would be dead," she said. "Lanie took me in and she helped me so much. If I wouldn't have come to this house I know I would be dead.”

The experience of helping Joy was so powerful that Lanie named the ministry she founded in 2013 "Redeeming Joy."

“I say we give women a tangible hope. We loan them hope until they have hope of their own. And I can say with confidence I know you can see the other side and be set free and whole,” Lanie said, describing their non-profit.

Through the help of the organization and lots of hard work, Joy has now earned a diploma.

“I graduated dental assistance school. And I am officially a dental assistant and I'm very proud of that, because I never thought I’d be in school and graduate,” she said.

Joy has since gotten married. She and her husband find great support at Steele Creek Church. She has found her voice again. And those piano lessons she took as an innocent young girl are part of how Joy praises God in song for rescuing her.

She wants to be a voice for those who have no voice. She wants to give hope to victims still trapped. They are not alone, she says, God is with them.

For a woman who had her dignity and so much of her life taken from her against her will, Joy is back. She was enslaved, but found her freedom and her faith.

Copyright 2016 WBTV. All rights reserved.