By Kay Whatley, Editor
On January 15, 2020, I attended a workshop titled Human trafficking 101 in Wilson, North Carolina. Instructed by Pam Strickland, founder of NC Stop Human Trafficking, this free workshop covered the devastating impacts of sex and labor trafficking, and how to recognize and report human trafficking.
Strickland spoke of the four main action steps toward the goal of abolishing trafficking: education, collaboration, legislation, and fair trading. These points were covered over the course of the three-hour workshop.
In addition to the presentation by Strickland. advocates and social workers attending the class shared their experiences, which were many and varied. Sadly, North Carolina is 10th in the nation for human trafficking — whether for sex abuse or business/farm labor. Our state has captive sex workers bused from city to city, all-ages forced into porn, farm laborers underpaid/abused, and restaurants/nail salons/other businesses which keep vulnerable “employees” locked up when they aren’t working. (Note that the “10th in the nation” may be low, as at this point law enforcement is not including their data.)
Training is key in understanding the victimization that happens, and how anyone can stop it by reaching out. For many in the room, this was their first training in human trafficking, as it was for me. I’ve shared part of what I learned, and would encourage readers to attend future “Human Trafficking 101” workshops. It’s gut-wrenching, but can give you tools to notice someone being victimized, and report to those who can help.
Local organizations worked together to bring the Human Trafficking 101 workshop to Wilson, NC and other locations across North Carolina. Handouts given to workshop attendees included this sheet with contact information. When you suspect human trafficking, call one of the organizations listed and report what you’ve seen.
Reporting is crucial, since most victims will not reach out for help, nor admit to others that they’re under duress, due to their captors conditioning them to be afraid, and their own shame at their situation. The list of “red flags” (below) was covered, in detail, with a slide presentation and video testimonies of human trafficking survivors.
The red flags on the image above read:
- Unexplained absences from school or an inability to attend school on a regular basis
- Sudden change in attire, relationships or behavior
- Much older “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”
- Signs of physical or sexual abuse
- Chronically runs away
- Exhibits fearful, anxious or overly-submissive behavior
- Overly promiscuous behavior or referencing sexual behavior beyond age-specific norms
- Uses lingo, such as “Ho,” “Daddy,” “The Life,” “The Game”
- Isolated from friends, family or caregiver
- Affiliated with a gang
- Substance abuse issues
- Tattoos that are branding
- Someone else has documentation/passport/identification
- Is not in control of money
- No control over schedule
- Someone else speaks for them
- References frequent travel
- Has a lot of hotel key cards
The presenter also covered how laws have been changed to address human trafficking, and to provide assistance, rather than treating victims as criminals. Unfortunately, as the laws have changed, they haven’t been consistently enforced. Even with legislation going in the right direction, the lack of training for law enforcement and others keeps the system failing victims.
Laws are described on the above slide from Strickland’s presentation:
- 2000: Trafficking Victims Protection Act — Sets the standard for the definition of human trafficking on a federal level. Provides funding for anti-human trafficking initiatives. Establishes global trafficking standards.
- 2009: NC Human Trafficking Statute Passes — Establishes the Human Trafficking Commission with in health, legal, social services, law enforcement and justice fields.
- 2013: Safe Harbor Law Passes in NC — State law that addresses commercial sexual exploitation of children. It prohibits a child for being arrested for prostitution. It takes more aggressive look at sex buyers and traffickers
- 2015: Sex Trafficking Included in Sex Ed — Focus on preventative efforts. Law is largely ineffective.
- 2017: Post Human Trafficking Signage* — General Assembly requires that certain establishments post a Human Trafficking Awareness poster with hotline number*
- 2019: Expansion of Expunctions — General Assembly makes it easier for human trafficking survivors to seek relief for criminal record acquired during victimization.
*Despite the 2017 law, many NC establishments are not posting the now-required human trafficking poster with hotline phone number. The law is not being enforced.
A portion of the day covered the importance of buying “Fair Trade” products. Many products — including coffee, tea, chocolate, and sugar — are produced using slave labor. Buying Fair Trade certified products ensures your money is not funding the exploitation of men, women, and children.
Upcoming Workshops and Resources
This workshop will be repeated in the coming months. Flyers for upcoming events are included below.
Nonprofits are collaborating across the state to bring an end to human trafficking, advocate for victims, and push law enforcement to put traffickers behind bars. On a more local level, these groups are bringing awareness and free workshops to communities across eastern North Carolina. For more information, follow the organizers and their partners on social media:
- NC Stop Human Trafficking — Facebook and Twitter
- SAFE of Rocky Mount — Facebook
- Salvation Army: Project Fight — Facebook
- Southmountain Children and Family Services — Facebook
- Tedi Bear Child Advocacy Center — Facebook
Ed. Note: January is human trafficking month. The symbolic Blue Ribbons were distributed to workshop attendees to wear in public to spread awareness.