By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
CHARLOTTE — A girl in your neighborhood coerced into prostitution by someone she met online, a foreigner seeking a better life in the U.S. forced into hard labor with no pay and no decent housing, a runaway teen taken captive and whisked far from anyone who can help — there are many faces of human trafficking and a rising number of victims across the nation as well as here in North Carolina.
That’s why Christian Action League lobbyist Sarah Bowman is working with law enforcement, human services professionals and others to help develop a comprehensive battle plan that will break the chains of this modern day slavery in the Tar Heel state.
“I think what we’ve seen in the past six to nine months is that things are coming to a tipping point, with not only public awareness, but with people in government being aware as well and ready to do something about this,” she said. “Working to promote Senate Bill 910 (Sale of a Child/Felony Offense) during the short session, it was clear that legislators are aware and have a heart for dealing with this. I think North Carolina is ripe to make changes now. Plus, we are starting to get enough statistics and case studies to help us begin to figure out what needs to be done.”
Human trafficking was the topic in Charlotte Tuesday at a U.S. Department of Justice conference at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, where nearly 300 law enforcement officers, medical and social service professionals and other victims’ advocates came together to share information and strategy. The Queen City location was no accident as officials there ready for crowds of 40,000-plus over Labor Day weekend and into the following week.
“The Democratic National Convention will bring thousands of visitors to Charlotte and therefore, will be a magnet for sex trafficking,” reads the N.C. Stop Human Trafficking web site. “Don’t be mistaken; this is happening in your community — along with other forms of human trafficking.”
Good Shepherd will also be the site of a related event Saturday, the Pre-DNC Restore Freedom Rally, where participants can grab a cup of fair trade coffee, get a glimpse of human trafficking via multiple displays and activities and speak with human trafficking survivors.
After the public portion of the 10 a.m.-to-3 p.m. event is over, statewide leaders in the effort to end human trafficking will again gather to discuss plans for prevention, advocacy, victim services and awareness. Bowman will brief the group about the legislative process and give initial suggestions of how laws need to change to better protect North Carolinians from trafficking. Her co-speaker, Harry Cupioni with the N.C. Department of Justice, will address labor issues connected with the crime.
“The labor aspect is certainly a piece of the puzzle that needs to be uncovered because of the amount of agriculture in our state,” Bowman said.
When it comes to children’s safety, the state learned late last year that it earned only a D on its report card from The Protected Innocence Challenge, a national study by the American Center for Law and Justice and Shared Hope International. The report cards ranked states based on six aspects of their legislative framework: criminalization of domestic minor sex trafficking, criminal provisions addressing demand, criminal provisions for traffickers, criminal provisions for facilitators, protective provisions for child victims and criminal justice tools for investigation and prosecution.
The Tar Heel state wasn’t alone in its poor performance. In fact 26 states earned Fs; only a handful managed to get a B or C; and no state was awarded an A.
“Although it was bad to get a D, this report was encouraging because it showed the laws that need to be tweaked to have a significant impact on human trafficking. We found a lot of positives in our laws,” Bowman added. “We just need to get them up-to-date to deal with this new form of slavery.”
She said hotline calls regarding human trafficking in North Carolina had gone from 139 in 2009 to 326 last year.
Because human trafficking can take on many forms and there are a host of agencies that must work together to combat it, there is no quick and easy fix. That’s why the Christian Action League and other organizations must cover a lot of bases in lobbying efforts. And that’s also why public input and involvement is so important.
Bowman suggested that anyone in the Charlotte area on Saturday come out to the Restore Freedom Rally at Good Shepherd Church at 11130 S. Tryon St. to learn more about the crime and what can be done to help. She also encouraged anyone who suspects he has witnessed an act of human trafficking to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-373-7888.