By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
A sting operation in 36 cities across the U.S. rescued 50 children from sex slavery last weekend. Closer to home, the number of cases of human trafficking in Charlotte has grown so much that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement stationed an entire team of agents there earlier in October to help address the smuggling and exploitation.
These news stories that leave most folks shaking their heads in disbelief don’t surprise N.C. Sen. Ellie Kinnaird (D-Orange), who has been pushing for lawmakers to create a Human Trafficking Commission to investigate the ways the crime is occurring in North Carolina, its links to international crime rings and what can be done to help stop it.
“People are only now becoming aware of the serious issue of trafficking,” Kinnaird said Thursday in response to recent media reports. She hopes that awareness will lead to action when the Legislature reconvenes.
Kinnaird and more than a dozen co-sponsors filed Senate Bill 353 in March to create a commission to probe the crime and to help educate law enforcement personnel, social service providers and others about trafficking so that perpetrators can be prosecuted and victims assisted. Although the bill never made it out of committee, presumably because of budget restraints, she is hopeful it will get the attention it deserves next go-around.
“It is still eligible for the short session, so we may have a chance again next year,” Kinnaird said. Co-sponsor Sen. Stan Bingham (R-Guilford) said he feels more strongly than ever about the issue and will be ready to push for legislation.
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said the measure is overdue.
“We spoke out for this bill when it was filed and the need is only getting more urgent,” he said. “These trafficking victims, many of them children and many far away from their homelands, are truly among the most helpless in our state. As the Body of Christ, we should be in the forefront on this issue.”
According to Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, there are now 34 task forces around the nation taking on the problem. The FBI worked with the Innocence Lost National Initiative on the recent sting that led to 631 arrests. But authorities fear they are dealing with the tip of the iceberg, especially in places like Charlotte, which has two interstates and is the largest city between Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Plus, they say large immigrant communities are where pimps and traffickers can easily conceal their crimes.
According to U.S. State Department estimates, more than 17,000 people are brought into the United States each year for forced labor or sex. Many are lured in with promises of legitimate jobs only to find themselves being abused and forced into prostitution by their captors. World Relief, a non-profit, faith-based organization that helps trafficking victims, said most are from Southern Asia and Latin America.
Kinnaird said there are also cases from Eastern Europe and Russia where traffickers advertise for a nanny. When respondents show up, they are taken to the U.S. in bondage. Even those not physically held are usually bound by fear as they can’t speak the language or are too terrified of police or of their captor’s threats to seek help.
Help is available in the Tar Heel state, but efforts are not always coordinated, a problem that the commission would address. A study group set up in the Attorney General’s office has evolved into RIPPLE: The NC Human Trafficking Task Force. Among other groups working on the issue are the Carolina Women’s Center, NC Stop Human Trafficking and the Justice Center. Legal Aid runs a Battered Immigrant Project.
As the word spreads about modern day slavery, more rank and file citizens are starting to take action. In fact, anti-trafficking walks have been scheduled in the past two months in Greensboro, Charlotte, Chapel Hill, Cary and Greenville according to the NC Stop Human Trafficking Web site. Plus, a survey is being performed by the Governor’s Crime Commission and several other agencies to help analyze current services to trafficking victims and training related to the issue.
“Our hope is that the recent media reports of these stings will turn heads and spur lawmakers to take action when they come back to Raleigh,” said the Rev. Creech. “Meanwhile, we encourage anyone connected with an agency that has a hand in serving victims to respond to the survey by clicking on the link below so that efforts can be coordinated and our situation accurately assessed.”