According to the Department of Defense, human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world.
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? North Carolina recently 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.
Along with Senate Bill 548, many organizations whose missions are to raise awareness of sex trafficking exist in North Carolina. One called Humans for Justice is a non-profit that funds education for human trafficking survivors, raises awareness, and conducts research.
Emily Davis founded the student-led organization when she was in high school. Davis is currently abroad, so Julia Loomer is the interim CEO. According to Loomer, Davis’ inspiration came from a high school classmate who had been affected by human trafficking.
“She was talking to a classmate and they were telling her all these things and she didn’t know what was going on,” Loomer said. “It ended up being a human trafficking case.”
The classmate confided in Davis about her lack of rights. Davis didn’t know how to help her classmate and realized many others wouldn’t know what to do in that situation either.
Davis conducted more research and found the average rate of getting trafficked is 12 to 14, and once a person is in the system, the average life expectancy is seven years.
Loomer found Humans for Justice on social media and wanted to become involved. She said a lot of others have also found the organization through social media.
“That’s actually how we’ve found a lot of people have gotten involved with it,” she said. “I was on social media and just saw Emily Davis, who is the founder, posting about it. I hadn’t followed her before, but somehow I got to her profile and I wanted to get involved.”
Before getting involved with Humans for Justice, Loomer had little knowledge on the severity of North Carolina’s trafficking issue.
“Even though I’m a public health major and working in urban youth and communities as my minor, I still had no idea what a problem human trafficking was in Charlotte.”
Loomer doesn’t think sex trafficking is becoming more of a problem in North Carolina. She believes it’s becoming more widely discussed.
“Over the years, even though our rates have gone up, I think it’s because of how we’ve advertised and how we’re getting the word out,” she said. “I think the issue is huge, but I don’t think the issue has exploded over the past couple years. I think people are just learning about it and we’re finally getting people the resources.”
Currently, Humans for Justice has four chapters located in California, Virginia, Charlotte, and Raleigh. As for the next few years, Loomer said the goal is to become nationally known.
“Right now we have a couple chapters. We’re a small non-profit and there are a lot of small non-profits out there, but there are a lot of things we’re trying to do,” Loomer said. “My goal is that people know about us and people understand it started as a high schooler’s dream.”
Only students are currently employed, but the goal is to one day have full-time employees. Long term, Humans for Justice wants to also be able to fund human trafficking survivors.
Loomer said the most rewarding part of the organization is the opportunity for change.
“I am put in awe and I’m amazed every single day seeing what my peers can do. I think it’s such a unique thing that, yeah, it is a job, but we’re creating this environment and community in colleges where we can make a difference.”
Humans for Justice is always looking for more students interested in getting involved with their organization.