When Jenna Carnuccio traveled to help fight sex slavery in Thailand, she said, many of the clients were white men picking up local teenage prostitutes in white-owned bars. The men were sometimes delighted to meet another American so far from home.
After graduating this winter from Liberty University, Carnuccio has just returned from three months overseas. She spent her daytimes in mission work, such as construction or teaching English.
But, at night, she went to the red-light districts where girls were prostituted.
“Most of the girls are from the ages of 8 to 17 years old,” Carnuccio said. “I’m 22, so I would be considered pretty old.”
Originally from West Chester, Pa., Carnuccio said she wants to help prevent human trafficking internationally and locally. She told her story June 15 at St. Matthews By-the-Sea United Methodist Church in Fenwick Island.
Human trafficking is the practice of illegally transporting people, usually for forced labor or sexual slavery.
During her two months in Thailand, Carnuccio worked in high-risk areas where people commonly suffer from extreme poverty and illness.
With little hope of medicine or even food, it’s more culturally acceptable for parents to give their child away in exchange for food or money, perhaps never realizing what horrors the children may face in sex slavery. A broker might leave town with a whole bunch of children.
But Carnuccio found hope there with the nonprofit Remember Nhu. They house poor children who are at risk of entering sexual slavery by encouraging destitute parents to send children to the safehouse, where the child will be cared for until adulthood. She said they have a more normal childhood and understand that their parents cared enough to give them a good home.
At night, Carnuccio and other volunteers visited the teenage girls trapped in brothels or picking up strangers in bars.
The men trading the women
Most girls only survive one to three years trapped in a brothel, with dozens of partners each night, sometimes an IV in their arms to stay sedated and completely dependent on drugs that the pimps had encouraged them to take.
“It was absolutely horrifying,” Carnuccio said.
“A lot of the customers are white men, usually on business,” she said.
She focused her ministry on the men perpetrating the sex trade. Men own the bars where newer prostitutes work. Some have families at home who didn’t know about that side of their business, she said.
Carnuccio said she also spoke with customers approaching brothels, encouraging them to stop continuing down an empty life path. Rather than spend $1 to rape a girl, she told them, why not use the dollar to give her an hour’s break or share God’s message with her?
“These girls are young. You should be protecting them like your own daughters, like a father should be,” Carnuccio said.
It wasn’t easy, she said. But some men did show a change of heart.
“I’m seeing what I’m doing. I’m selling these girls, and it’s completely destructive,” she said a barkeeper later told her.
It might sound like a dangerous situation for a young American woman, but she was working with men and women in groups of six. The men could minister to the women while masquerading as potential clients. If the bar owners didn’t want proselytizing in their establishment, the group left quickly.
“I never felt fear, and I think that was good. … [We] were smart about it,” Carnuccio said.
She also worked a month in a Cambodian orphanage where traumatized children had already been rescued from the sex trade.
“A lot of them are mentally, physically and emotionally unstable,” so they clung desperately to any loving adult in the home, said Carnuccio.
A significant number of victims rescued from sex slavery will eventually return to it, either for easy money or desperation, she said, noting that brainwashing is a big part of it. Or another child will take their place. That’s why, she said, she prefers the preventative nature of Remember Nhu.
Remembering the original Nhu
When she was a child in Asia, Nhu’s family sold her virginity and her body to a man multiple times. But her newfound faith in Christianity had given her hope beyond the ordeal. When an American heard her story, he was inspired to find and rescue Nhu. She lives in the U.S. now, and he began opening Remember Nhu children’s homes in 2007.
The group has nearly 75 homes in 13 countries.
“I love it — they go into every region… find those kids a refuge for their entire childhood,” Carnuccio said. “It has ended human trafficking in regions across the world, not just a village.”
There’s a long way to go. She said 1.2 million children are sold annually, which translates to 3,300 children daily, or 90 children “in the 40 minutes we’ve been talking.”
But human trafficking is such an underground trade that it’s hard to keep exact numbers in Delaware, the U.S. or internationally.
It can be hard for some Americans to understand or even believe, she said, and that frustrates Carnuccio, who saw the brothels and once met a child whose mother had left her in a trashcan.
“I think it’s hard for people to wrap their minds around that,” Carnuccio said. “I think they have to understand, really, how poor these people are … and sick.
In her faith, Carnuccio said, she struggled to understand why such evil could continue in the world. But she has stepped up and joined the fray to care for her fellow human beings.
She’ll begin graduate school in the fall to study clinical mental-health counseling. Eventually, she hopes to open a safe home in the U.S. or do counseling overseas.
People can learn more at www.RememberNhu.org. She said people can pray for the children, sponsor a child, donate money or just read and educate others. Remember Nhu has helped and housed more than 1,700 children.
The talk was sponsored by the Mission Committee and United Methodist Women of St. Matthews By-the-Sea U.M. Church.