Education, policy development likely at human trafficking prevention conference

(The Center Square) – People with power and influence to help North Carolina stop exploiters of human trafficking are meeting in Raleigh to help educate, change perceptions and push new…

(The Center Square) – People with power and influence to help North Carolina stop exploiters of human trafficking are meeting in Raleigh to help educate, change perceptions and push new policies.

Legislators, sheriffs, police chiefs, district attorneys and members of the anti-human trafficking movement are expected to attend. Organizers say the state is in the top 15 nationally for human trafficking incidents, and all of North America has a crisis.

“As a state, we can reduce demand for the purchase of sex and for exploited labor,” NC Stop Human Trafficking founder Pam Strickland told The Center Square.

North Carolina was ninth in 2021 incidents in the 2022 report of the National Human Trafficking Hotline. There were 922 signals received, 318 from victims or survivors.

Agricultural businesses, in-home domestic help, illicit massage businesses, and hotels and motels are, respectively, the leading places in the state involving human trafficking. The two-day North Carolina Human Trafficking Prevention Conference, convened by the NC Demand Reduction Task Force, opens Wednesday hosted by more than a half dozen people very exposed to the issue.

Lead hosts include Bill Woolf, former director of Human Trafficking Programs with the U.S. Department of Justice; a state senator; two state representatives; and a county district attorney at a major geographic crossroads in the state.

“These people have the power and influence to move North Carolina from a state that pulls exploited people out of the river to a state that stops exploiters from throwing people into the river,” Strickland said.

The hosts include Billy West, district attorney of Cumberland County where Interstates 95 in the county and I-40 about 20 miles north combine with Fort Liberty and a 208,000-population city of Fayetteville to create a human trafficking challenge. Also hosting are state Sen. Ted Alexander, R-Cleveland, and state Reps. Gloristine Brown, D-Pitt, and Dr. Tim Reeder, R-Pitt.

The group is rounded out by Apex Police Chief Jason Armstrong, Apex Mayor Jacques Gilbert, Pitt County District Attorney Faris Dixon, and Pastor Chris Jones, the founder of Ship Community Outreach.

Strickland believes Woolf’s “experience and knowledge will contribute to the success of this conference in changing perceptions and policies here in North Carolina.”

In 2009, the sale, rape and murder of 5-year-old Shaniya Davis became one of the most heinous human trafficking cases not only in the state but all of America. West prosecuted, and in essence, gave the public an introduction into human trafficking and familial trafficking.

“His office continues to lead the state in prosecuting human trafficking cases,” Strickland said.

Speakers include Tony Porter of A Call to Men; Bob Rodgers of Street Grace; and Michael Shively, a human trafficking research and policy expert. The topics for discussion include demanding reduction policies and legislation; how pornography contributes to human trafficking; who buys sex?; how are they stopped?; and strategies to reduce demand for commercial sex.

Convention organizers bill it as a who’s who list of hosts and speakers.

Human trafficking and the ongoing movement of people through the southern U.S. border with Mexico has gained headlines and sound bites. Context is needed, Strickland says.

“It does occur at the border; however, when looking at the ‘big picture’ of human trafficking in the United States, it is not the major contributor,” Strickland said. “Unaccompanied minors coming across the border are often ‘taken in’ by supposed friends and relatives, who then exploit them for sex or labor. Several states have actually welcomed this practice by making the practice of employing minors in dangerous, inappropriate industries like poultry facilities legal.

“Most victims of human trafficking are exploited by their own family or people claiming to be friends. Although there are no statistics available, anecdotal evidence by service providers indicates that victims coming across the border are not a significant number, compared to the total number of victims in the United States.”