The Upstate of South Carolina is located between Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina—both hubs for human trafficking and sexual exploitation. As the city of Greenville grows, so does the threat of the escalation of these crimes.
Since 2012, organizations such as SWITCH have worked to end human trafficking and sexual exploitation in the Upstate. Results have been positive, with 274 individuals assisted through intervention and restoration and more than 45 local agencies trained on how to identify human trafficking.
Volunteers, such as BJU students and alumni, are an important part of the effort.
The nonprofit raises public awareness and provides resources for victims.
- Awareness—educates individuals and agencies on the signs of human trafficking and appropriate ways to respond to victims.
- Prevention—teaches young people, from middle school to college-age, the methods used by traffickers and gives them the tools to avoid becoming victims.
- DEMAND Program—explains the correlation between pornography and trafficking to men’s groups and provides resources to overcome addiction.
- Intervention—offers monthly outreaches to connect with individuals in the sex industry and locates safe spaces where they can escape.
- Restoration—provides personalized restoration plans for individuals who walk away from sex work.
Fighting for Change
Student Faith Casteel
In 2017, a friend invited BJU educational studies major Faith Casteel to a SWITCH awareness meeting. The severity of trafficking in the Upstate moved Casteel to join SWITCH.
“I knew I wanted to volunteer to join the fight against human trafficking and sexual exploitation, however, I knew I had to wait because of school obligations,” said Casteel. She has kept in contact with the organization and earned an intern position for the fall of 2019.
Alumna Katie Pletcher
Katie Pletcher, a 2014 BJU graduate, was working for the University when she discovered Priceless. The 2016 movie addresses the subject of human trafficking and the value of life. Pletcher had been interested in social work for many years, but she considers this film the catalyst for her journey into nonprofit work.
“There are still overly dramatic effects (in the film), but I think it’s also one of the more natural films about trafficking,” she said. “It was kind of after that, that my interest was piqued.”
With a desire to learn more, Pletcher came across SWITCH while browsing the internet in 2018. After an awareness meeting, she liked the organization’s mission and started volunteering. She now works with the Awareness team, bringing truth to schools, businesses and organizations.
Pletcher didn’t consider herself a public speaker, but her passion and SWITCH’s thorough training prepared her for the position. “It is the only nonprofit, only organization in the Upstate that is doing this right now,” said Pletcher. “There are a few others, but as far as having these different programs that SWITCH has—like restoration and education—it is the only one in the Upstate.”
Besides the overall work of the organization, SWITCH’s faith-based efforts to transform the community caught the attention of both women. Pletcher was convinced that SWITCH was the organization for her “because they always go back to faith and Christ’s love for everybody.”
Casteel believed that the foundation of true hope SWITCH stands on is vital to the Upstate community. Its core verse is Isaiah 42:16, which speaks of God’s promise to guide the blind, change their paths and never forsake them. To SWITCH, part of ending human trafficking is transforming the lives of those walking away from it.
“SWITCH strives to love the way Jesus loves, and that is exactly what our hurting community needs,” said Casteel. SWITCH demonstrates this through the restoration program and with its vision for Dandelion House—a safe transition house for individuals escaping their old life.
Women who go through the commercial sex industry often suffer complex trauma. Executive director Zaina Greene believes they need a specialized place that understands this and knows how to address those issues well. Dandelion House will offer women from one week to 90 days of stay in a stable environment so they can plan the next steps in their restoration process.
Casteel invites BJU students to “help the cause by becoming volunteers with SWITCH, by helping SWITCH purchase items they are in need of, and by praying for those who lead the fight against human trafficking and sexual exploitation in the Upstate.” Learn more.