Films often portray human trafficking as something that happens only to foreigners, in dark urban back alleys or dirty motels, but the reality is it actually hits much closer to home than some realize.
Human trafficking — both sex and labor trafficking — is happening with alarming frequency in North Carolina.
“According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there were 181 human trafficking cases reported from North Carolina in 2016,” said Dean Duncan, a research professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Social Work. “That number includes 130 sex trafficking cases and 41 labor trafficking cases.”
According to the NHTH, N.C. is among the top 10 states in the number of trafficking reports. In the past 10 years, the NHTH has identified almost 2,700 victims of human trafficking in the state.
“North Carolina is unique in that the hotline gets a much higher percentage of potential labor trafficking cases compared with the national average,” said Jenna Novak, strategic engagement advisor for Polaris Project, a non-profit that works to combat human trafficking.
Novak added, “That does not mean that North Carolina has more labor trafficking than the rest of the country, but North Carolina has made labor trafficking a priority.”
Realistically, however, those numbers fall far short of the number of actual trafficking cases happening in North Carolina since human trafficking can be difficult to identify and many victims do not self-identify as trafficking victims.
What is Human Trafficking?
Human trafficking is the use of force fraud or coercion to compel someone to engage in commercial sex or forced labor or services. It includes all acts involving the recruitment, abduction, transport, harboring, transfer, sale or receipt of a person for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, slavery or exploitation.
Trafficking does not only include the transport, transfer or procurement of an individual; it is also the ability of the trafficker to benefit, or earn goods, money or anything of value for the labor or sex act of the people being trafficked.
“Because North Carolina is one of the top 10 states in prevalence of human trafficking, collaboration among disciplines such as law enforcement, case managers, social workers, school personnel, nonprofit advocates and others is critical,” said Pam Strickland, founder of Eastern N.C. Stop Human Trafficking Now.
“Awareness and education of the general public and of professionals who may encounter victims in the course of their jobs is also vital,” Strickland explained. “The more eyes and ears we have looking for victims, the more victims can be rescued and restored.”
For minors under the age of 18, trafficking also includes any case in which the minor is made to perform commercial sex acts, whether or not if force, fraud or coercion is present.
Why is Human Trafficking Prevalent in N.C.
The geographic location of N.C., in part, contributes to the high number of victims and survivors living in the state.
North Carolina lies in the center of the triangle encompassed by Washington, D.C., Charlotte and Atlanta, all of which are hubs of human trafficking.
North Carolina also lies at the crossroads of several major interstates, including Interstate 40 that crosses the state from west to east and several interstates running north to south across the state. These highways facilitate sex and labor trafficking.
“The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department, which has been very aggressive in pursuing human trafficking cases, likes to point out that the half-way point between New York City and Miami on I-95 is just north of Fayetteville,” said Duncan, who directs Project NO REST at UNC.
This story was written for our sponsor, Project NO REST and the University of North Carolina. Learn more about the issue of human trafficking on the Project NO REST website at http://www.projectnorest.org/.
Posted February 8
Updated March 1