Maybe you were like me when I first learned about human trafficking. I thought it was a blight on humanity that was happening “over there”. According to International Justice Mission, more than 40 million people (a quarter of them children) are in slavery globally, and it’s a $150 billion industry. It wasn’t until 2012 that I discovered that children are sold in the United States, in North Carolina, the “First in Freedom”.
Yes, North Carolina has a trafficking problem. We have a trafficking problem and it will take all of us to end it. You may have heard that our state ranks consistently in the top 10 in the country for trafficking. That statistic is derived from the number of human trafficking instances reported to the Human Trafficking Hotline. So, accurately stated, NC consistently ranks in the top 10 for reports of human trafficking to the national Hotline. Other states may have just as many instances of human trafficking but they just aren't getting recognized and reported.
Human Trafficking is exploitation that happens because of force, fraud or coercion. Not all human trafficking is sex trafficking; it can be labor trafficking or even a combination of both labor and sex trafficking. Although it has been very difficult to collect data on labor trafficking, some experts believe North Carolina has a bigger labor trafficking problem than sex trafficking problem. Additionally, Polaris Project has identified 25 different subcategories of human trafficking. It’s not always what you’d expect!
Sex trafficking rarely involves stranger abductions. Sadly, most victims are trafficked by someone they know and trust. According to Shared Hope International, the common age for entering the sex industry is 14-16. These kids may get raped up to 10 times a day. In our state any child under the age of 18 is considered a victim and protected by the law—you don’t have to prove force, fraud or coercion because children under the age of 18 can’t legally give consent. There’s no such thing as a child prostitute in NC.
North Carolina has great interstate systems. Unfortunately, this allows victims to be easily transported to NYC, Atlanta and throughout the state, which adds to our human trafficking problems. (However, please understand, a person does not have to be transported to be considered a victim of trafficking. Some survivors have been trafficked in their own homes by "friends" and even family members.) Other victims, such as those ensnared in the illicit massage industry in NC (typically foreign nationals), are lured with false promises and then sent through a network of brothels throughout the country that use massage businesses as fronts. The illicit massage industry is notorious for frequently rotating their victims to a new location within the network every 2-6 weeks in an attempt to avoid apprehension.
Victims are not just foreign-born. We have a large number of vulnerable US citizens who are at an increased risk for victimization. One such population is children in foster care. According to the National Youth Foster Institute, 60% of child sex trafficking victims have a history in the child welfare system. In 2017, we had 10,500 foster children in the state of North Carolina. Traffickers prey on vulnerabilities such as homelessness, poverty, family conflict, legal status, substance use, or prior victimization. Victims come from all races, socioeconomic statuses, legal status, and genders!
In 2013, North Carolina created the Safe Harbor Law to lay the foundation in combatting trafficking. Since then the state has worked hard to initiate other policy (check out our policy page), create a Human Trafficking Commission and give the NC State Bureau of Investigation original jurisdiction of the crime. Laws were passed to mandate the training of both school teachers and students on the red flags of human trafficking.
We’re waking up as a state but there’s still more to do and there’s a role for all of us to play. If we want to get serious about combatting trafficking, we must address the demand; most buyers are white, middle class, married men--maybe not who you'd expect. In 2018, NC had more than 730,000 ads for sex on the dark web. If someone’s willing to buy, there will be someone else willing to exploit and sell vulnerable individuals. We have to address demand! In addition, all across the state, North Carolina needs more beds for victims and more services to cover their complex needs. We also have to equip key areas where victims may present (hospitals, foster care, municipal government, substance abuse service providers, abortion clinics, tattoo parlors, LGBTQ centers, transportation hubs, hotels, convenience stores, etc.) to recognize the signs of trafficking and know how to properly respond. Contact us to let us know how we can help you, your civic group, your house of worship, or business become a part of the fight.
One day I’m going to be telling my grandchildren that there was a dark time when children were being sold in our state but that people of all races, SES, religions and political affiliations came together to end it. We needed no other reason than to know of this evil’s existence, to fight. Be the solution.
If you want to learn more, find resources here.
In 2018, Polaris worked on 10,949 cases of human trafficking reported to the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline.
The common age for sex trafficking begins at 14-16
Of the nearly 26,300 runaways reported to NCMEC in 2019, 1 in 6 were likely victims of child sex trafficking.
Labor trafficking is often not recognized but can take many forms including agricultural work, magazine sales, domestic servitude, and illegal massage businesses.
Stigma often impedes boys willingness to disclose, but boys are also sex trafficking victims.