Sex trafficking close to home
Published: Saturday, February 23, 2013
Updated: Friday, April 12, 2013 12:04
When considering crime in Wilmington, I know that sex trafficking is not the first thing that comes to my mind. Public perceptions of human sex trafficking may include vague notions of a foreign problem or something seen in the movies. However, human sex trafficking is real and it’s right here in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Human sex trafficking is an underground crime that is intensifying across the country. North Carolina ranks in the top eight worst states for human trafficking and the port city of Wilmington facilitates this practice. Due to its proximity to a state port as well as Interstate 40, Wilmington is susceptible to sex trafficking as it is easy to move victims in and out of the city quickly.
Victims in the Wilmington area tend to be females in their teens, found in rural areas. Many victims are immigrants although Americans are targets as well. According to Lindsey Roberson, the regional director of NC Stop Human Trafficking, runaways are prime targets for traffickers.
Traffickers, also known as pimps or madams, exploit the vulnerabilities of victims while offering promises of marriage, employment, or an education. This promise of a better life eventually spirals into an abusive situation wherein victims are prostituted for sex, often under the threat of harm. This modern day slavery is difficult to identify and even harder to prosecute.
Traffickers solicit customer’s predominately using the Internet. Unlike other forms of illegal trafficking, sex trafficking is unique in that victims can be sold over and over, unlike a product such as drugs, which are sold once. Growing in numbers, the United Nations recently estimated that human trafficking is a $32 billion business worldwide.
Given these disturbing numbers as well as the evidence of human trafficking’s presence here in Wilmington, why is there not more being done to make it stop?
While the crime has many layers and is difficult to identify and prosecute, I don’t believe this is an adequate excuse. The fact that the Wilmington community is uneducated on the presence of human trafficking is evidence enough that awareness needs to be raised. The general public should be made more aware of not only the presence of sex trafficking, but signs to look for in a potential victim.
According to the reading provided by the Centre of Redemption, signs that would indicate a possible sex trafficking victim include: marks of abuse, suspicious tattoos or brandings, signs of psychological dependency, and fearful or tense behavior. Other questions to ask would be: is the person allowed to be in public alone? Is the individual allowed to freely contact friends or family? Does the person appear to be in a relationship with a much older man?
While the presence of NC Stop Human Trafficking, a community member coalition, is helping spread the word as well as provide programs for victims, there needs to be more concrete legal implications for this horrific crime.
This begins with increasingly working towards the identification of trafficking situations both by law enforcement as well as the public. Furthermore, communication needs to increase between the government, non-governmental organizations, and community groups in order to increase efficiency and awareness.
Because there is an insufficient amount of consequences for perpetrators, there is little to deter them from this crime. Thus, there needs to be more support for legislation that punishes the offenders adequately.
North Carolina senator Thom Goolsby filed a Sex Trafficking/Sex Offender Registration act last Wednesday, Feb. 20. This bill will require those convicted of human trafficking to register as sex offenders. This will be a deterrent in that offenders will become a part of a public database. Initiatives such as this are what North Carolina needs to reduce and prevent sex trafficking.
Victims may find it hard to leave their situation for several reasons. It may be out of fear and intimidation. It may also be that victims lack the knowledge or access to alternative resources available. This lack of resources needs to change. Increasing follow up programs, providing counseling, and offering an alternative placement for victims is imperative in bringing human sex trafficking to an end. Increasing support for legislation that funds such victim programs is the first step.