On April 14, I wrote a column with the headline “Sex for sale in southern Durham?” (DN, nando.com/1ny). The answer: almost certainly yes. As well in northern Durham off I-85, near Brier Creek and the airport, in Raleigh off the Beltline, and in Fayetteville, Greensboro, et cetera.
Much of this activity allegedly goes on at hotels/motels (respected national chains) along the interstates of North Carolina, of this country.
A great deal in recent years is said to be set up through a website where women – and likely their “handlers” – place ads beckoning men to encounter them at these hotels to be “catered to.” One ad says: “Naughty Never looked so Nice.”
In fact, there were 200 ads on a very recent weeknight, about 11:50 p.m. This, just in the greater Raleigh list. The next day, about 6 p.m., there were roughly 170.
Never miss a local story.
About 12 mentioned Durham. Four mentioned the area around a specific intersection I focused on before.
The language is as explicit as it can be without mentioning a sex act. There are supporting photos.
In April, I set up four appointments at four hotels at or near the intersection of Highway 55 and 54, just off I-40, Exit 278, in Durham.
It was easy to do. I didn’t keep the appointments.
Sex or money, never mentioned.
Many human trafficking experts believe most of these women don’t do what they do in these motel rooms freely: their lives are not their own. Experts also believe many are minors, or were when they got lured in.
Since that April column, much has occurred.
On July 1, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch (raised in Durham from age 6 on) came “home,” and one of the key issues she addressed was human trafficking. She said it was “modern-day slavery.”
“Unfortunately,” Lynch said, “it is the invisible crime that does happen everywhere.”
I applaud Lynch’s outspoken words and official prioritizing. But the likely trafficking isn’t invisible.
When the attorney general was speaking in Durham, there were almost certainly young women displaying themselves on the website in question, barely clothed in most cases (some showing faces, some not), pointing to the area around highways 55 and 54. A few miles away.
As I wrote in April, it’s “too organized not to be organized.”
The same day Lynch visited here, the sheriff of Cook County, Illinois, (Chicago) announced that he’d persuaded Visa and Master Card to cease allowing their credit cards to be used to process payments for these ads. It seemed a giant step: go at the money, the logistics.
Law enforcement stings do their best, but the problem is just too big.
Sheriff Thomas Dart said ads enable, “a violent business that preys on the young and vulnerable, yet one that hides that reality behind a sense of normalcy.”
The sheriff said the tender these type ads had to use now to buy an ad was bitcoin.
Last week, the website sued, claiming Sheriff Dart was infringing on free speech. The suit reportedly said Dart used, “false accusations, innuendo and coercion.”
This month, I’ve detected no slowdown or shift in the “escort” ads on the site.
On CNN last week, in a documentary called “Children for Sale,” narrated and significantly reported by Jada Pinkett Smith, one interviewee said, “Whatever the buyer wants, that pimp or trafficker will go out and get.”
The special did not mention this site, but an array of ads shown looked very much like it.
One young woman featured said she got into the brazen, sometimes brutal world at age 17. She said the man in control made her feel special for a while. This, before she was more or less ordered to have sex with as many as 40 men a day.
That woman, who felt trapped and under threat, was able to get help and break free. She was lucky.
Here, three numbers of groups that specialize in assisting victims of trafficking. The first is a national hotline: 888-373-7888, open 24 hours seven days a week.
The Polaris Project has a texting helpline: BeFree at 233733. A group called 4Sarah, featured on CNN, is at 470-362-8808.
The Durham Crisis Response Center’s 24-hour crisis line is 919-403-6562.
Daunting as it may be, there are ways to escape exploiters, and these hotel rooms, and start a new life.
You can reach Tom Gasparoli at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-219-0042.