Union Baptist Church hosts WellHouse founder
Published 4:30 pm Wednesday, October 19, 2016
As all students under the age of 12 were asked to leave the audience, a hush fell over the crowd.
Tajuan McCarty, renowned speaker and advocate against sex trafficking, took the stage at Union Baptist Church Monday night to not only share her personal testimony, but to also educate the audience on topics sometimes viewed as uncomfortable or inappropriate in the church setting.
Growing up in Georgia, McCarty first began running away from home at the age of 12. The first time she ran away, she began in Carlton, Georgia, and ended up in Birmingham, Alabama.
“The reason I ran away is because things were happening in my life that no one was addressing,” McCarty said.
“At 12 years old, my father was in and out of prison, my mother was abusing me, things were happening in my life and no one was looking at them.”
After being apprehended later that night, McCarty met her first probation officer/social worker and was taken to juvenile jail for 72 hours.
“It really angered me. I didn’t know why it did then, but I do now. I didn’t have the ability emotionally, intellectually or verbally to tell anyone that I was being abused,” she said.
“Number two, it was normal in my household, so it had to be happening to everybody else. So, because my mother spanked me and left marks and bruises every single time she beat me, it had to be normal. So there wasn’t anything for me to tell; but nobody ever asked me the right questions.”
Between the ages of 12 and 15, McCarty says she ran away and was put in jail more times that she could count. She was in and out of multiple foster homes, group homes and emergency shelters, and was classified as a runner and a flight risk.
At the age of 13, she was put into a psychiatric ward for 17 days; she was assigned to a co-ed, adult unit because there were no facilities for youth at the time.
“At about 14 years old, I remember standing in front of a juvenile judge, and he looked at me and said you are incorrigible. I said what does that mean? He said, there’s no hope for you,” she said.
“I talk to our children in Alabama regularly, our foster kids and group homes, and every single time I do there’s at least one child in there that says someone has said there is no hope for them, too. And God forbid they are acting out, because we are blaming them. Because something’s obviously got to be wrong with them because they’re from a healthy home.”
She ran away for the last time at the age of 15 and met her first pimp. At this point in her life, she believed this was her only choice for survival; McCarty says this was the healthiest relationship she had ever had in her life.
McCarty was one of five girls in this home, but her job in the home was different from those of the other girls. Two girls worked in strip clubs, while the other two worked at truck stops and the streets; McCarty was instructed to sell drugs.
“Prostitution, strip clubs and pornography are never a choice. Ever. I don’t care if she’s 15, 35 or 55, there is not one little girl who wakes up and says I want to be prostituted when I grow up,” she said.
“And drugs are not the problem. People don’t have drug problems; people have abuse problems, and drugs are a symptom of the problem.”
Each girl was required to meet a quota every night before returning home; punishment was issued for those who did not meet their quota. McCarty said that these punishments would not happen in private, but would be done in front of the other girls in order to teach a lesson. Punishments could range from a beating to torture, rape or gang rape.
One night as McCarty was dropped off to begin her sales, she found that she did not have enough product with her to make her quota for the night. This was the first night that McCarty was forced to sell herself to make her quota.
“It was paid rape. I am still in counseling and therapy dealing with it, and I didn’t even understand my own victimization until after I opened WellHouse,” she said.
“Because if you had talked to me just a few years ago, I was just a prostitute, a whore and a dope fiend. And it was my fault, because I ran away at 15.”
Over the span of 11 years, McCarty was forced into prostitution with over 30 people a day.
To this day, McCarty still recalls truths given to her by her pimp that ring true even now: 1. She would be arrested and he would not. 2. People would drive by her every single day and not reach out and help her. 3. She could leave any time she wanted to. 4. She could not walk into a church with the clothing she had.
“If a girl walks into your church and she’s got on a spandex mini dress, heels this high and it’s obvious she doesn’t have any underwear, you better not talk to her about her clothes,” she said.
“Because she’s got more courage in her pinky that you have in your body. We uphold those truths today. We want to judge people by what they wear and how they look, and it’s not okay.”
The WellHouse first opened in 2010 and welcomed its first victim in 2011. Close to 250 females have been served by The WellHouse since 2011.
Today, McCarty and her staff at The WellHouse have opened six different homes for women, women with children and for youth. This shelter for women with children is the second shelter in the nation to take women with children, according to McCarty. The first home in Alabama for trafficked children is currently in the works as well.
“Let’s talk about the redemption of Jesus. I’m a two-time convicted felon with two master’s degrees. That doesn’t make sense outside of our Lord,” she said.
“I opened The WellHouse with $33, I was on food stamps and had just been out of prison a year, because I was that crazy one that said send me.”
Human trafficking is reported to be a $150 billion industry worldwide and a $9.5 billion yearly in the United States. A trafficker can make $150,000-$200,000 per girl each year, and the average trafficker handles four to six girls.
“I don’t care if you were 5, 15, or 25, it’s not your fault. I don’t care how short your skirt was, I don’t care what dark alley you were walking down, it’s not your fault,” McCarty said.
“I don’t care if you think you said yes, when you knew the whole time you were saying no. Even if you couldn’t get the words out of your mouth. It’s not your fault.”
Forty percent of human trafficking happens in the Southeast of the US, and I-20 is a major trafficking corridor where victims are sold at various stops along the interstate.
The average age into trafficking is 12-14 years old; 80 percent of victims are females and up to 50 percent are minors. The average life expectancy of a victim is seven to 10 years, and the primary cause of death is suicide.
“Some of you may think after you hear my story that I don’t have her testimony. You’re right; you may not, but I praise God if you don’t,” McCarty said.
“But you’ve hurt from something. Who are you not to light somebody’s candle with your testimony, keeping your mouth shut because you think you’re not worthy to tell your story? Pain shared is pain lessened. Everyone in this world is redeemable as long as they have breath in their body.”