According to the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, gangs have been responsible for roughly 48 percent of violent crime committed throughout the United States – crimes such as murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
Mostly, gangs are known for their involvement in the sale of drugs and weapons. But as the National Institute of Justice points out, one of the most understudied aspects of human trafficking within the U.S. is the role of street gangs to facilitate the brutal crime.
In a study conducted in September 2016, the National Institute of Justice investigated the role of street gangs in the connection to the crime of sex trafficking in San Diego County, California.
Their findings concluded that around 85 percent of the human trafficking facilitators were gang members and that only about 2,000 victims out of the some 12,000 come forward to talk to law enforcement about their involvement with human trafficking.
Further, the National Institute of Justice concluded that human trafficking brings in an estimated $810 million, putting human trafficking as San Diego’s second-largest underground economy only after drug trafficking, which rakes in $4.76 billion.
The data collected by the National Institute of Justice pointed to underlying problems with identifying human trafficking facilitated by gangs, the inability to trace gangs as the supplier of the victims, and the profitability of the crime.
According to a January 2016 article by In Public Safety, gangs have turned to human trafficking due to the renewability of the victims as well as the low risk that comes with conducting a human trafficking ring.
Victims of human trafficking can be reused, sold over and over again to their customers. And, the risk is low when conducting human trafficking. If a victim is caught, they are imprisoned for prostitution and the victim is not traced back to the source, who can easily replace the imprisoned victim with another person.
The In Public Safety article also explained that many victims of human trafficking are runaways, who are vulnerable and find comfort in the family atmosphere of a gang. Gangs control these women by providing this comfort through housing, food, alcohol or drugs.
Highlighted in the In Public Safety article was also the role that police face in focusing their prosecution not on the victim, but on the source.
As the article stated, police have to be careful not to belittle victims who are usually afraid of police due to the anti-law enforcement messages that are preached to the victims by their gangs. Police also are required to focus their efforts on getting the victims to testify against the gangs and their members, which can be very difficult and lead to many of them never being prosecuted for their actions.
According to the data collected in the September 2014 analysis conducted by the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, there are around 11,737 people involved with gangs throughout the state of North Carolina.
In Chapel Hill, the role of gangs is evident as a member of the Chapel Hill Police Department is a part of the North Carolina Gang Investigators Association, according to a North Carolina Highway Patrol March 2016 presentation.
Ran Northman, the community safety communications specialist for Chapel Hill, echoed the confused and unaware emotion that the National Institute of Justice stated comes along with associating gangs and human trafficking.
Through email, Northman expressed his confusion with questions presented to him through inquiring why the relationship between gangs and human trafficking was being investigated in the first place.
“Where did the idea for the story come from?” asked Northam. He went on to question whether the story was created based off of evidence or even something that was circulating around town.
Although the topic seemed to be raise eyebrows, human trafficking within North Carolina is not foreign. As the National Human Trafficking Hotline reports, there have been 881 cases of human trafficking reported since 2007 with 118 cases reported just this year.
The National Institute of Justice concluded in their study that 85 percent of human trafficking facilitators were gang members, and this statistic may hold true for the Chapel Hill area and the human trafficking problem that may come along with the gangs that call the town its home.