Human Trafficking up in North Carolina and Everywhere. Can Public Awareness Blunt it?

Human trafficking is defined as modern-day slavery that involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Children are trafficked in countries all over the world, including the United States.  The Department of Homeland Security estimates that human trafficking generates many billions of dollars per year, second only to drug trafficking.

Statistics from the National Human Trafficking Hotline state that North Carolina ranked among the top 10 states for the number of human trafficking cases reported in 2016.  There were 181 cases reported, which was up from 110 cases reported in 2015.  This is a 62 percent increase, compared with a 35 percent increase nationwide.

So what is being done to combat this increase?  In 2017, North Carolina passed Senate Bill 548, which is short titled Strengthen Human Trafficking Laws/Studies.  This bill made human trafficking a higher-level felony.  The result is longer prison sentences for those convicted.

The bill also added regulations for massage therapy businesses so their establishments would not be used by human traffickers.  According to the Polaris Project, there are more than 5,000 brothels in the United States that are disguised as massage parlors.

In 2015, North Carolina passed Senate Bill 279, which requires middle school health teachers to include human trafficking in the seventh and eighth grade curriculums; however, the legislature didn’t provide any funds to support this addition to the curriculum.

School officials are told to report potential cases of trafficking and to instruct students on the matter, but North Carolina doesn’t mandate training of school officials on how to identify, report, and address these potential cases.

According to a report from the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, “U.S. schools are emerging as a potentially promising environment for a variety of trafficking prevention and intervention activities for the young people in their care.”

Because many school teachers don’t know how to properly teach this sensitive material, Present Age Ministries developed a curriculum that met the bill’s requirements.

Present Age Ministries is a nonprofit organization based out of North Carolina that works to put an end to trafficking in the Charlotte area.  Their mission is to combat the sexual abuse, exploitation, and trafficking of teen girls.  The organization works with communities to teach prevention, awareness, and education.

As Volunteer and Program Coordinator at Present Age Ministries, Kayla Babson manages all the volunteer and prevention work within schools and communities.  According to Babson, North Carolina health teachers aren’t fully equipped and trained to teach this subject matter, which is where she comes in.  She trains and educates the students for the health teachers.

“It’s a two-part lesson,” she said. “We go in and give them a background overview of human trafficking and then we’ll dive into just what’s fueling trafficking.  We just give them the realities of the world that they live in while also giving them practical resources to protect themselves and others.”

Present Age Ministries has also developed a curriculum in the form of a board game called Discovering Your Value.  The game is designed to be played by a small group of teenage girls.  Babson explains the game.

“We’ll talk about things like sexual integrity, dreams and future, relationships, cultural influences, and those types of things that will help them have conversations with each other while they’re playing this game and trying to win points,” Babson said.

The game’s purpose is to get the girls to have conversations about what’s going on in their real lives.  “We want to train them to continue to be the best version of themselves,” said Babson.

According to RAINN statistics, at least 100,000 to 300,000 youth are at risk for commercial sexual exploitation annually in the United States.  This equates to the amount of people that could fill Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, four times.

Babson believes it’s important for middle and high schoolers to be informed about trafficking because they’re the age group most at risk.

“They’re the ones being targeted,” she said. “The average age is 12 to 14 in America.  As an organization, we work with victims in the Charlotte area.  We have worked with well over 100 girls over the last few years and our average age is 14 years old.  It’s really important to target the group that the perpetrators are targeting.”

Kim M. Cooke is the health and physical education specialist for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.  According to Cooke in an email, the “health essential standards were revised after Senate Bill 279 to state, and added sex trafficking in the following essential standards:

-7.ICR.3.3 Recognize that sexual harassment may contribute to sexual abuse, sexual assault, and sex trafficking and the feelings that result from these behaviors.

-8.ICR.1.2 Identify the reasons that people engage in violent behaviors (bullying, hazing, dating violence, sexual assault, family violence, verbal abuse, sex trafficking) and resources for seeking help.

-9.ICR.1.5 Explain how power and control in relationships can contribute to aggression, violence, and sex trafficking.”

In addition to these standards, Cooke said, “support services (guidance services) have protocols established and/or instructional material on sex trafficking.”

The strengthening of anti-human trafficking laws is already happening in North Carolina.  The State of North Carolina needs to train and prepare school officials, who are meant to lead the fight against the trafficking of children.

North Carolina’s Safe Harbor Law recognizes juveniles associated with sex trafficking as victims.  The North Carolina General Assembly passed the bill in July 2013.  The law also made pimping a felony and forced convicted traffickers to register as sex offenders.

Human trafficking is also being addressed at the national level.  According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, The Victims of Trafficking Protection Act of 2000 “combats trafficking in persons, especially into the sex trade, slavery, and involuntary servitude, to reauthorize certain Federal programs to prevent violence against women, and for other purposes.”

Another piece of federal legislation is The Customs and Facilitations and Trade Enforcement Reauthorization Act of 2009.  According to the Department of Homeland Security, sections 307 and 308 of this Act amend the Tariff Act of 1930 to prohibit the “importation of supplies to the United States made by benefit of human trafficking or forced labor.”

The Tariff Act of 1930 was an act that implemented protectionist trade policies, which restrained trade between countries.

The PROTECT Act of 2003’s (Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today) intent is to protect children from abuse and sexual exploitation.  Both of these are common elements of human trafficking.

During his term in office, President Barack Obama declared January National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in 2010.  Following the start of this awareness month, January 11 became National Human Trafficking Day.

The Department of Homeland Security created the Blue Campaign in 2010.  According to the Department, the campaign’s goal is “to serve as the Department’s unified voice to combat human trafficking…we embarked on a concerted effort to raise public consciousness of human trafficking, protect victims, and bring perpetrators to justice.”

January 11 is the Blue Campaign’s “Wear Blue Day.”  This is a day where people can pledge solidarity with victims and raise awareness about and work to end the crime.

Officials have also taken steps at the international level.  An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year worldwide, according to the International Labor Organization.

The United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children entered force on December 25, 2003.  This Protocol was the first legally binding tool with a universal trafficking definition.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the goal of this standard “is to facilitate convergence in national approaches with regard in investigating and prosecuting trafficking in persons’ cases.”  The goal of the objective is for countries to prevent and combat trafficking and assist victims with respect to their human rights.

Government intervention varies worldwide, with some countries creating policies and others trailing behind.  Efforts to address trafficking internationally are difficult because differences in culture, economy, and religion make laws complicated to enforce.

While the laws and policies implemented around the world put countries and states in a better position to combat human trafficking, there is still much to be done.

“We need more public awareness,” said Chris Swecker, chair of the Governor’s Crime Commission and former head of the FBI’s Criminal Division in a WRAL.com article from February 2017.  “It isn’t just the police that need to recognize the victims.  When you’re in a hotel lobby, or when you’re at a convention, or when you’re at the Super Bowl or some major event, that’s where these things take place.  There’s a public awareness dynamic that needs to be lifted up and enhanced.  We all need to play a role in it.”

If you have information about a potential human trafficking case, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.  Advocates are available 24/7 to take reports, all of which are confidential.

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