State Politics

‘Our neighbors can be sold again and again’ – how to spot the signs of human trafficking

N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein
N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein

North Carolina is thought to have one of the top rates of human trafficking in the nation, said Libby Magee Coles, chairwoman of the state Human Trafficking Commission.

Human trafficking victims can be sexually exploited or forced to work in seemingly legitimate businesses.

The crime is “deeply intertwined with drug and gang activity,” Coles said. “Unlike drugs, people – our neighbors – can be sold again and again and again.”

Jan. 11 is Human Trafficking Awareness Day. To raise awareness of the crime, Coles and state Attorney General Josh Stein spoke at a news conference Thursday about efforts to train law enforcement and other people who might cross paths with victims – truckers, for example – to spot evidence of trafficking.

Some signs of human trafficking may be visible to people outside specific occupations such as law enforcement, health care, or trucking, Coles said.

People may come across:

  • a worker at a nail salon or spa who appears to be living at the business and cannot speak English.
  • minors who have significantly older boyfriends.
  • housekeepers or nannies who don’t leave the homes where they work.

The state had 258 reported cases of human trafficking last year, Stein said.

In 2016, 182 cases were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. According to statistics reported by the hotline, North Carolina ranked 10th in reported human trafficking cases in 2016.

“The traffickers gain total control over their victims’ lives so that the person has no ability to separate themselves from their tormentors,” said Stein, a first-term Democrat.

There’s no single solution to human trafficking, Stein said.

Perpetrators must be arrested and prosecuted, the demand for trafficking victims must be reduced, children must learn internet safety, the general public must become aware of the crime, and drug addiction rates must fall, he said.

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner