Human Trafficking and Sex Slavery in North Carolina
Sixty-some degrees and overcast on a typical morning–I was taking no notice of the traffic lines as I sped through the empty half of the Walmart parking lot trying to beat the lunch crowd to my favorite spot. Suddenly, I noticed a teenage girl stumbling out of a parked car.
She stood out, with disheveled hair, legs as thin as my wrists covered by thin black leggings, an oversized baggy sweatshirt, no shoes, no purse, no wallet, no depth behind her eyes. I stared as she passed in front of my car before climbing in the passenger seat of another vehicle and riding off.
My female instincts kicked in, and I knew in my gut that she wasn’t just another homeless girl living out of her car. I slowly drove past the car that she had gotten out of and noticed a man in the reclined driver’s seat. The thoughts running rampant in my head were so unnerving and nauseating that I actually had to pull my car across two spaces, roll the window down, and put my head between my legs.
She was a modern day slave.
When I snapped out of my episode I realized that the car had gone one way, the girl another, and both left me thinking: How is this happening in my own backyard? And even worse: How have I been so naive, so under- informed that I’m in this state of shock?
We need to peel back our sunglasses, rub our eyes, and look at the reality of this situation: Trafficking and exploitation are a very real disease that has infected the neighborhoods we call home. Don’t kid yourself. This isn’t just an overseas issue. It happens right here in North Carolina. Right here in Raleigh. It’s modern day slavery.
Words we should know:
When vulnerable people are taken advantage of; can be in the form of labor or sexual abuse; minors being used in labor or sexual acts are ALWAYS considered exploited because anyone under the age of 18 is considered vulnerable, as well as the mentally handicapped and anyone who is from a foreign country and can therefore not fully understand the native language or culture/laws.
An example of labor exploitation is hiring someone who doesn’t speak English to clean your house at a rate less than minimum wage. They don’t understand that it’s illegal and are thus at a disadvantage. Engaging in sexual acts with a minor or someone who is mentally handicapped is considered sexual exploitation because regardless of their consent, they’re vulnerable and therefore at a disadvantage.
When someone is exploited for the purpose of financial gain and/or by the use of force, fraud, or coercion.
- Force involves physical restraint, beatings, rape, and confinement
- Fraud includes false promises, posing as a false agency or employer, and lying about living or working conditions
- Coercion involves threats or blackmail, confiscation of passport or other legal documents, and making a person afraid to contact authorities or family.
An example of trafficking would be when a young girl is being bounced between foster homes and a neighbor offers take her under his wing and give her a nice home in exchange for working for him. She is locked up, beaten, raped, and told that if she seeks help she will be shamed by society. In that scenario the victim has been trafficked by fraud, force, and coercion, respectively.
Modern Day Slavery
This is the exact same thing as trafficking except there is always financial gain involved. Imagine the same example as above, except the neighbor is making her have sex with strangers in exchange for money.
Now that we’ve covered the basics I can share some interesting statistics with you.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, it’s estimated that in 2006 there were 2.4 million people worldwide being trafficked in what was estimated to be a $32 billion a year industry. That same year, UNICEF estimated 2 million of those to be children.
What does any of this have to do with you, a proud North Carolinian? In 2012 the National Human Trafficking Resource Center reported that there were 512 calls reporting possible human trafficking in North Carolina alone–46 of those from Raleigh, 7 from Cary, 14 from Durham, and 99 from Charlotte. All due to the network of highways, military bases, large agricultural and meat packing industries, growing immigrant population, and the fact that we’re a coastal state.
These high numbers put North Carolina in the top ten for human trafficking in the United States.
This is a top ten I don’t want to be a part of.
My point of even writing about this topic is to at the very least inform. I know “inform” can be a scary word because you feel like once you’re informed you’re required to take action, right? Wrong. Just being informed will make you want to take action. You don’t have to start waking up early on your Saturdays off to visit rehabilitation homes and help young girls get back on track. Although if you want to, check this out: http://www.transforminghopeministries.org/
And you don’t have to start seeking out females in an effort to find which may be exhibiting signs of being in a trafficking situation. Although here are some tips for spotting it: http://www.polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/recognizing-the-signs
But what you ought to do is be informed and share your knowledge with others when the opportunity arises. Unfortunately, many victims don’t realize they’re victims and it may take a little (*dun dun dunnn*) information to help them realize that they are in fact being exploited by or trafficked by someone that they think cares about them.
It’s also an opportunity to lead by example. Showing your children, neighbors, co-workers, and/or strangers what it looks like to be in a healthy relationship–No need for ridiculous amounts of PDA, but speaking kindly of and being slightly affectionate towards your significant other can go a long ways in the eyes of the young and impressionable that are always watching.
These recent arrests made by the FBI have brought us to this undeniable realization that this is happening all over the world–and very close to home. All I ask is that as citizens of North Carolina, the United States, and essentially the world, we at least inform ourselves. I guess at this stage in the game we should all have something we bring to the metaphoric table of life–if you can’t think of any specific skill set or talent then at least allow it to be knowledge.