A bipartisan bill has been introduced in the House to directly help victims of human trafficking and to establish a pilot program to educate students and law enforcement officers on ways to recognize the signs of trafficking activity.
Human trafficking is the illegal practice of buying and selling people for the purposes of their forced labor, domestic servitude, or sexual exploitation. By some estimates, it affects more than 27 million globally, and, according to the FBI, is the third-largest criminal activity in the world.
In the United States, according to the Department of Education, cases of human trafficking have been reported in all 50 states. It has become our nation’s fastest growing criminal enterprise, generating over $32 billion in illegal revenue every year. And while women and girls make up the largest segment of those victimized by illegal trafficking, recent studies indicate that the number of boys and men involved in the sex trafficking trade often goes underreported.
Justice Ministries, a Charlotte nonprofit committed to combating sex trafficking and the sexual exploitation of women, focuses on rescue and housing. But resources are scarce. Executive Director Mark Blackwell tells the Charlotte Observer, “Money is what’s needed in this fight. We’re operating on a shoestring budget.” Last year, Justice Ministries served 150 victims of human trafficking. (Click here for a 2014 WBTV interview with Mark Blackwell and Ms. Jillian Mourning, herself a victim of trafficking.)
House Bill 910, which has 50 co-sponsors, allocates $37.5 million for shelter beds and $13.5 million for mental health services to victims of human trafficking. Representative Bill Brawley, the legislation’s lead sponsor, calculates that services and housing can run about $40,000 a year for each victim. Mental health services can add another $15,000 to that figure.
Despite the frequency with which human trafficking occurs, because it “hides in plain site,” it often goes undetected and therefore unreported. HB910 allocates $4.5 million to educate students about the trafficking phenomenon, and another $800,000 to train law enforcement officers.
The student educational pilot program features age-appropriate materials, including:
- information on the warning signs of human trafficking,
- terms used by traffickers,
- actions or behaviors that indicate malicious intent,
- Internet Web sites that are popular with traffickers,
- available counseling and advocacy center options for students affected by trafficking.
Prior to incorporating the program into the curriculum, teachers and instructional support personnel who will be responsible for educating students about human trafficking will receive training on:
- how to recognize sexual abuse and sex trafficking of minors, including common warning signs indicating that a minor may be a victim of sexual abuse or sex trafficking,
- actions that a minor who is a victim of sexual abuse or sex trafficking should take to obtain assistance and intervention,
- available counseling and child advocacy center options for minors affected by sexual abuse or sex trafficking.
The law enforcement training pilot program includes:
- how businesses in the community can serve as fronts for human trafficking,
- how building security can be used to keep people inside instead of keeping people out,
- how the condition of rooms in a residence can indicate it is being used for human trafficking,
- warning signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, such as bruises, burns, scars, broken bones, black eyes, poor hygiene, malnourishment, intense fear or depression, or lack of eye contact with anyone,
- signs that may indicate a person lacks control over his or her personal identification documents, including immigration documents, and
- information on available counseling and child advocacy center options for minors affected by sexual abuse or sex trafficking.
Because they are pilot programs, the legislation will only apply to New Hanover, Wake, and Mecklenburg Counties.
Sadly, North Carolina ranks among the worst places in the country for crimes associated with human trafficking: many of the same qualities that make our state attractive for business and commerce — easy access to seaports, a network of major interstate highways, and a large transient population — also provide the conditions that help this modern-day form of slavery to flourish.
According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, North Carolina is among the ten states with the highest number of reported trafficking cases.
International traffickers lure victims to our shores with the promise of marriage, jobs, schooling, and opportunities for a better life. Here in the United States, targets come from poor neighborhoods and homeless shelters. Many have run away or been kidnapped. So often they go unnoticed, mistaken for willing workers. Before they can be properly identified and assisted, many are forcibly relocated never to be seen again.
Traffickers provide forced labor to a wide range of industries, including personal care and beauty services, home cleaning, construction, textiles, food and beverage, commercial fishing, agriculture, and the commercial sex trade. Approximately 75-80% of human trafficking is for sex; the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that as many as 300,000 of America’s children are at risk of entering the sex-for-sale industry every year.
Eighty percent of those sold into sexual slavery are under 24, and some are as young as six years old. The average age that most girls are forced into a life of prostitution is between 12-14; for boys the age is between 11-13. Most have been physically and mentally abused or neglected and suffer frequent psychological breakdowns, and have little hope of getting adequate medical treatment for diseases to which they have been exposed. Many children turn to drug and alcohol abuse in order to cope with their misery.