Human trafficking for sex and labor is a real, growing problem that many North Carolinians don’t realize could be happening in their communities, local experts said this week.
“It’s a public safety issue, for sure, but it’s also a public health issue and human rights issue,” said Libby Coles, executive director of the Durham-based group Justice Matters, which helps trafficking survivors and others navigate legal issues.
A human trafficking exhibit and free program begins at 6 p.m. Monday at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina is well-situated for trafficking crimes, because of its convenient interstate highways, ports and connections to larger cities, such as Atlanta and New York, experts say. Gangs feed the problem, as does a high demand for cheap farm labor, and a large, transient military presence, which attracts adult businesses that can be a front for sex trafficking.
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Coles predicted the number of arrests and survivors will continue to climb. Anti-trafficking groups are pushing for greater public awareness and a state mandate that businesses and other places display hotline posters, she said.
The UNC initiative Project NO REST – North Carolina Organizing and Responding to the Exploitation and Sexual Trafficking of Children – also secured a two-year, $4.9 million grant last month from the N.C. Governor’s Crime Commission to expand its public outreach.
While 20 million to 40 million people may be trafficked worldwide, it’s hard to gauge exact numbers, experts say. Survivors can be citizens, legal or illegal immigrants, male or female, youths or adults, and from all socioeconomic conditions.
However, they often share vulnerabilities that give traffickers an advantage. They may be young, homeless, sexually abused, or involved with the social services, foster care or juvenile justice systems. They may not believe they are victims, especially if trafficked by family or a close friend.
Immigrants may be recruited legally using work and student visas but exploited once they arrive, Coles noted.
“Domestically trafficked people are not kidnapped and taken to another city and chained in the basement and trafficked,” said Abbi Tenaglia, founder of Transforming Hope Ministries.
“They are lured in via a family member, a family friend, someone they met online, someone they met at school, the mall, and they believe this person loves them and wants to protect them, and they believe that they have to support the family in some way, so they work.”
While Chapel Hill and Orange County officials haven’t had any official cases, Chief Deputy Jamison Sykes noted the Sheriff’s Office has investigated a few tips.
Alamance and Durham counties have had multiple cases, however, prompting a group to ask Durham leaders in 2015 for a county task force on child sex trafficking.
In Alamance County, sex trafficking cases inspired citizens to form the Alamance for Freedom coalition in 2013.
Tenaglia, with Transforming Hope, noted social media’s growing role in trafficking young victims. Her group works with the N.C. Department of Justice, law enforcement and local schools to teach students how to be good digital citizens.
“Social media is a big issue in that kids just put stuff out there, because their focus is ‘I want more followers, I want more likes’,” she said. “It makes it very easy for predators to gain more information about them and use it against them.”
Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926
“Human Trafficking: It’s Real & It’s Here” – a free exhibit and program – starts at 6 p.m. Monday at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, 940 Carmichael Drive in Chapel Hill. Register at tinyurl.com/march6program.
▪ Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline: 1-888-373-7888
▪ Polaris National Human Trafficking Hotline: 888-704-5290
▪ Project No Rest: projectnorest.org
▪ North Carolina Coalition Against Human Trafficking: www.nccaht.org
Human trafficking can involve threats, violence, deception, debt bondage and other tactics. Available statistics are only a snapshot, based on hotline reports:
▪ The $150 billion industry affects over 20 million people worldwide
▪ 68 percent are forced to work
▪ 55 percent are women and girls; 26 percent are children
▪ Boys usually enter sex slavery at 11-13 years old; for girls, it’s 12-14 years old
▪ One in five runaways in 2015 may have been sex trafficking victims
Source: Polaris Project
Know the signs
Polaris Project says these signs can be potential indicators of human trafficking:
Work and living conditions
▪ Not free to leave or come and go as he or she wishes
▪ Under 18 and providing commercial sex acts
▪ In the commercial sex industry and has a pimp or manager
▪ Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
▪ Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
▪ Not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
▪ Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
▪ Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
▪ High security measures exist at work or home, such as opaque or boarded-up windows, window bars, barbed wire and security cameras
Mental or physical health
▪ Fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous or paranoid
▪ Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
▪ Avoids eye contact
▪ Lacks health care
▪ Appears malnourished
▪ Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
Lack of Control
▪ Few or no personal possessions
▪ Not in control of own money, no financial records or bank account
▪ Not in control of identification documents
▪ Not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being there and/or translating)
▪ Claims to be just visiting and not able to clarify where he or she is staying
▪ Lacks knowledge of whereabouts
▪ Lost sense of time
▪ Numerous inconsistencies in his or her story