New law valuable tool in the sex trafficking demand reduction arsenal

(The Center Square) – Making solicitation of prostitution a felony and enhanced training requirements are key ingredients to the North Carolina legislation helping combat human…

(The Center Square) – Making solicitation of prostitution a felony and enhanced training requirements are key ingredients to the North Carolina legislation helping combat human trafficking.

Lawmakers directed the Department of Labor to increase awareness, and the Department of Social Services is required to expand training available to county Social Services departments. NC Stop Human Trafficking, led by Pam Strickland, is pleased with the law’s implementation and hopes even more can be done, such as being specific to require all county DSS employees attend and be evaluated on their comprehension.

Passage was 42-0 in the Senate and 114-0 in the House of Representatives. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper affixed his signature Friday.

“Because solicitation of prostitution has historically been a misdemeanor, law enforcement has lacked incentive to pursue that charge,” Strickland told The Center Square. “As NC Stop Human Trafficking has discussed the issue of charging sex buyers with law enforcement agencies across the state, many of them have the same position. The reverse sting operations necessary to arrest sex buyers are extremely expensive – requiring many hours of planning and training and extra layers of personnel for safety of the officers involved.”

And, when the operation is successful, the net gain is “a handful of misdemeanors that will often be reduced or dismissed,” she said.

Some agencies believe it worth the cost, others do not.

“When law enforcement personnel, district attorneys and judges have been educated about this change,” Strickland said, “we expect that the number of charges for the purchase of sex will increase dramatically.”

Also in the new law, child custody hearings do require disclosure of criminal history. That includes being forthcoming if convicted of sexual violence, human trafficking or the sexual exploitation of a minor, or if denied custody of any minor child previously.

Since the beginning of the long session in January 2023, a legislative team from within the 4-year-old North Carolina Demand Reduction Task Force has implored lawmakers on Jones Street for change. The task force itself is a collaboration of NC Stop Human Trafficking, Shield NC, and Legacy of Hope International.

“Reducing the demand for commercial sex is the most effective strategy for reducing sex trafficking,” Strickland said. “One tactic to reduce demand for commercial sex is to increase the possibility of legal consequences for sex buyers. The new law is a valuable tool in the demand reduction arsenal.”

House Bill 971 requires lodging establishments to require staff training on how to identify potential human trafficking victims, and how to report situations in real time to local law enforcement or the National Human Trafficking hotline. That number is to appear in a place conspicuous to the public and employees.

Also in the new law, viewing pornography on government networks and devices is prohibited. Strickland said with that, however, is disappointment on a lack of consequences – up to an including termination of employment.

“In the case of elected officials,” she said, “the offense should be made public, so that the votes can determine the consequence.”

Victims’ rights are also in the law’s language.

Strickland said, “NC Stop Human Trafficking is pleased that the General Assembly passed H971 to protect the privacy of victims of human trafficking and their families by not making their personal information a matter of public record. The statute requires victims or their guardians to file a motion for victim confidentiality.”

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.

North Carolina had the ninth-greatest number of unaccompanied alien children, primarily arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, from the total 21,772 since fiscal 2015.

North Carolina’s placement among other states for trafficking of humans and sex is considered enhanced by the major interstates crossing and their proximity to the state’s six major military bases. The 2,555-mile Interstate 40 runs from Wilmington to Barstow, Calif.; and I-95 runs through the heart of the east in its 1,919-mile layout from Miami to the Canadian border in Maine. Major interstates 85, 77, 74, 40 and 26 complement them.

The six major bases include the U.S. Army’s Fort Liberty and Pope Air Force Base, both in the southeastern part of the state; Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in eastern North Carolina; and U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River along the coast, not more than an hour’s drive from the more inland MCAS Cherry Point. There are also two U.S. Coast Guard bases along the northern coast at Elizabeth City; and the Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point on the southern coast in Brunswick County.