Though it may be hard to believe, many people today are still being bought, sold and exchanged for goods as if they were pieces of property.
Modern day slavery is real. According to the FBI, in Fiscal Year 2013 the bureau formally opened 220 investigations in the United States concerning suspected adult and child victims of human trafficking and opened 1,025 more investigations which possibly involved human trafficking.
It also happens right here in our neighborhoods. The Department of Defense also reported investigating nine human trafficking-related cases involving military personnel in a 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report. Also during 2014, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center reported receiving 64 calls from victims of trafficking and 23 from Family members of trafficking victims in North Carolina.
In 2013, North Carolina officials received 623 calls via the human trafficking hotline and The Dream Center helped 23 victims in Fayetteville in 2014.
Nine arrests have been made by the Sheriff’s Office in Cumberland County alone, with 27 total charges being filed since “Operation Save Our Children 2015” began combatting human trafficking.
So what is human trafficking and what does it look like?
The United Nations defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including labor or sexual exploitation.
Human trafficking is unfortunately not widely acknowledged as a real issue so close to home, though it is a very real and growing problem not only in surrounding countries, but in the United States as well.
Reliable research and data continues to mount, pointing out just how close to home and how well hidden these crimes can be.
The focus of investigations is largely on assisting victims.
For many, the belief is that human trafficking occurs in faraway, foreign countries like Thailand or Russia; but this mindset can’t be farther from the truth. The FBI has recently placed North Carolina among the top 10 states known for human trafficking.
Unfortunately, due to its location right in the middle of two major interstates which have direct routes from shipping ports, Charlotte, North Carolina serves as a major port of entry for human trafficking.
It is estimated that North Carolina has more than 1,700 trafficked girls each year.
Approximately 2,200 children in North Carolina are considered “homeless” and statistics show that one in three will be picked up by a pimp and sold within the first 48 hours of becoming homeless, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.
Human trafficking affects people from every culture and every socio-economic status.
Human traffickers generally target children who have family issues or unstable households, have a hard time making friends, and children who have been abused or neglected because they are the most vulnerable to their coercion methods, but that doesn’t mean traffickers only target that demographic.
Human traffickers do not only use social media to befriend and lure their victims; they visit malls and other social hang-outs populated by children and teens to establish a rapport of trust and kindness. When their target child completely trusts and believes everything their “friend” tells them, it’s easy for the trafficker to take them away from everything they know and control them.
Once obtained, they use threats and intimidation, physical isolation, immigration status, language barriers and unpaid debts as methods of control over the isolated child.
To avoid being targeted, it is of utmost importance for today’s parents to maintain open and honest communication with their children to be aware of and know who they interact and communicate with at school, online and during recreational activities.
Two young, “All-American” girls who were targeted, or “chosen” by traffickers, experienced a very similar, horrific reality as they were targeted and lured away.
Their experience is described throughout the documentary “Chosen.”
Brianna was an 18-year-old honor-roll student, cheerleader and also worked at the local café. Lacy was a 13-year-old who was an active member of her youth group and a volunteer in her community.
Both were “Chosen.” Both were manipulated and then exploited.
The documentary is an eye-opening experience for both professionals and parents alike showing first-hand how easy it is for human traffickers to target a child and eventually lure them away from their family and life, into the horrific reality of human trafficking, most likely never to be seen by their loved ones again.
Human trafficking, specifically child human sex trafficking, is becoming more and more prevalent.
It is, therefore, important to educate and inform professionals and communities about it.
It is important to know what warning signs to look for in children and how to report suspected cases of child human sex trafficking to law enforcement agencies.
In 2014, a 14-year-old girl was seen walking around a local hotel on Skibo Road for days, wearing only shorts and a tight shirt.
She didn’t have any shoes or belongings. Despite her poor appearance, no one ever stopped to ask her if she was ok, or ask about her status there at that hotel.
She never spoke, but constantly hoped someone would take notice of her silent pleas and rescue her from the hell she was living. She was a victim of human trafficking.
She was at the motel for days being forced to have sex with men (including some Soldiers), in exchange for money received by her captor. She was later rescued by the Dream Center and released from her dreadful situation.
That year, the Dream Center worked with 23 victims of sex trafficking, all who grew up in Fayetteville.
Human trafficking is not a “faraway, foreign land” issue. The industry is fueled by demand, here and abroad, and it must be stopped.
The best way to help reduce the rates of trafficking is to be educated on the issue, understand the warning signs of a child who is being targeted, recognize how to identify a potential victim and understand what steps to take to assist victims.
Parents, be mindful of who your children interact and socialize with in person as well as online; have frequent discussions about the friends they communicate with; and don’t delude yourself to think that there’s no way your child could become a victim.
Human trafficking does not have a color, race, or specific value that determines which children will be targeted.
It happens in the roughest and nicest of neighborhoods, and among children from troubled families as well as from some of the most put together, loving families.
Get educated, stay informed, and stay connected to your children. Let’s put a stop to human trafficking.