By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — The words “human trafficking” may bring to mind a poor foreigner smuggled across a faraway border toward a life of hard labor. And while that’s certainly one form of this modern-day slavery, trafficked persons can be rich or poor, male or female, adults or children, foreign nationals or U.S. citizens. The truth is that human trafficking has been reported in all 50 U.S. states, and North Carolina ranks as the eighth most likely state for it to take place.
It’s that fact that non-profits, government agencies and lawmakers as well as lobbying organizations like the Christian Action League are working to change with a new Commission on Human Trafficking and legislation that heightens the penalty for buying or selling children.
Senate Bill 910, which would make the sale, surrender or purchase of a child a Class D felony rather than a Class 1 misdemeanor, won unanimous passage in the Senate June 11 and was taken up by the House Judiciary Committee B on Wednesday. Although committee members welcomed the measure, Greensboro attorney Brinton Wright addressed the group to share his concerns regarding possible unintended impact on lawful actions such as adoption.
Christian Action League lobbyist Sarah Bowman said she is consulting experts across the state including district attorneys, the N.C. Bar Association and the Department of Health and Human Services to help discern proper language for the proposed law.
“Our goal is to uphold the original intent of the bill while eliminating any potential hidden impacts on lawful agreements and practices,” she said. “We want children protected in North Carolina and for adults who would sell or trade them to be appropriately punished.”
Currently the sale, surrender or purchase of a child is only a Class 1 misdemeanor, comparable to driving with a revoked license or writing a check on a closed account. If the law passes, the charge will carry a $10,000 fine on first offense and a prison sentence of roughly three to 13 years depending on mitigating or aggravating factors. Subsequent convictions would involve a $50,000 fine.
Bowman said the progress of S 910 is coupled with the advancement of a Commission on Human Trafficking, long sought by lawmakers such as Sen. Eleanor Kinnaird (D-Orange), who floated a bill in April to set up an 18-member commission to research the ways human trafficking is occurring in North Carolina and its links to both international and domestic crimes, as well as to educate law enforcement and social service providers and the general public about the problem and to suggest new procedures or legislation to help eradicate it. Kinnaird also called for the commission to help develop regional response teams or other coordinated efforts to counter human trafficking and to help close gaps in services provided to victims.
Instead of taking up Kinnaird’s bill, the Senate inserted into the state budget the creation of a 12-member Commission within the Department of Justice that would take on many of the same roles her bill advocated. The Commission would include three members appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, three named by the Speaker of the House, one from the Governor and five department secretaries serving as ex officio members from Public Safety, Administration, Labor, Health and Human Services and the Attorney General.
“This is a huge advancement in the fight against human trafficking in North Carolina,” said Bowman, who has been working with victims’ services organizations across the state for the past few months. “The Commission will serve the desperately needed role of changing intragovernmental policies to better address human trafficking as well as recommending legislative changes based on the data collected.”
She said the CAL would continue to lobby for better legislation to address human trafficking and work to raise awareness in North Carolina, especially among Christians.
Take Christian Action:
To find out more about what you can do to get involved, call the CAL office at (919) 787-0606 and request a workshop for your church or community group.