Beware: Slavery still exists (and it’s closer to home than you think)

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Startling statistics released last month rank Charlotte as the 6th largest metropolitan area and NC among the top 10 states in the nation for human trafficking violations.  That’s right.  People sold as property to perform sexual acts or forced labor – in Charlotte – as in Charlotte, NC.

Human trafficking is modern day slavery that involves the illegal trade of people for exploitation or commercial gain; more slaves exist today than at any time in human history. Labor trafficking is the most prevalent form of human trafficking, but forced commercial sex exploitation – which may include starvation, and physical and psychological abuse – of women and girls is the most commonly reported and prosecuted globally. Both forms of trafficking are happening in our Charlotte neighborhoods. No race or socio-economic group is immune.

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Why is Charlotte so high in the rankings?

(1) The number of reports and calls to the hotline has increased because of a concerted effort over the past few years by law enforcement and local non-profits that have raised awareness. (Ostensibly, this is a good thing!)

(2) Our transportation networks. Charlotte lies at the intersection of two major eastern seaboard interstates along a heavily traveled coastal region.

(3) Seasonal employment creates a surge in migrant workers and a continual influx of immigrants.

(4) Charlotte is reportedly the nation’s second fastest growing metropolitan city and has become an attraction for increasing number of large sporting and entertainment events and conferences. According to safe house property managers, law enforcement frequently call for standby and room availability during events like CIAA and the DNC. Higher tourism brings a higher demand both for migrant workers and for the sex trade.

(5) Money. Human trafficking is the second largest and fastest growing financial crime in the world, generating an annual $9.5 billion in revenue in the U.S and over $32 billion globally; it trails only behind the profits from illicit drug trafficking. Every 30 seconds, the criminal industry of human trafficking makes more than $30,000 through human exploitation, and some of that money flows directly through Charlotte banks.  Not only are our banks destinations for trafficking proceeds, but they invariably serve as conduits to finance the trafficking process, through the use of money services business, pre-paid bank cards to transfer funds, and individual bank accounts which hold the money made by abusers.

How can we support the fight against human trafficking?

We can fight it like we fight foreign terrorism because slavery is another form of terrorism.

Insidious criminals terrorize innocent humans for their own motives just like innocent civilians are abused by ISIS and other foreign terrorist organizations. The efforts to counter that violent extremism are based on principles that are applicable to countering trafficking:  educate the public and build awareness, counter negative narratives aimed at vulnerable populations, use all “instruments of power” for prevention and response, and promote community-led intervention.

Any effective campaign – whether in support of the homeless or veterans – requires the community to work together in an integrated approach to directly face what is a community problem. The community-building concept must reach all pillars of society – from government institutions and law enforcement, to religious groups, research institutes, the private sector, and well-established non-profit service organizations, such as Safe Alliance and the Council for Children’s Rights, two Charlotte-based organizations that provide support for abuse survivors. Trafficking often crosses the nexus of domestic violence, child abuse, juvenile justice, and runaway children, so it make sense to pool resources for those in need.

Fortunately, a nascent but growing local network is also specifically addressing human trafficking in Charlotte. It takes a village:

  • Government-sponsored efforts, including the Charlotte-Metropolitan Human Trafficking Task Force  under the U.S. Attorney’s Office, focus primarily on prevention and the pursuit of justice against perpetrators but also work closely with community leaders to address the full spectrum of care for survivors.  North Carolina is also home to two state-wide groups:  NC Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the NC Human Trafficking Commission (14 members appointed by Governor).

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  • Moore and Van Allen Law recently established a Human Trafficking Pro Bono Project and has partnered with the Junior League to host a speaker series. These organizations also improve the rescue process by training judges, police officers, and other health care workers to respond appropriately to victims.
  • Non-profit organizations like Lily Pad Haven, On Eagles Wings, All We Need is Love, Market your Mind, and Present Age Ministries provide safe houses to help victims find food, shelter, medical and mental health care, and ultimately find independent living, employment, new identities, new lives – filling in where government services drop off.

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  • Leaders from various non-profits frequently speak at churches, mosques, and synagogues to raise awareness and galvanize public and private partnerships with who provide overlapping, interconnected services for trafficking victims in Charlotte. Many faith-based organizations adopt the non-profits as benefactors.

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  • Student-led groups such as Youth 4 Abolition and Friends of Prajwala (Myers Park) seek to raise awareness among teenagers, the age group most likely to be abducted for slavery.

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The Charlotte community has made some collective success in addressing the issue aggressively. Charlotte has developed a rapid response force, excellent health and human services network, strong public and private-sector leaders promoting justice and redemption, and social activists who work to help raise awareness of this unsavory issue.

Want to get involved? Here are links to a few local organizations that can connect citizens with opportunities to mentor survivors, help build and supply safe houses, provide services for healing and reconnection to society:

Paula Broadwell is a leadership consultant and a 19-year Army veteran with a degree in public and non-profit administration; she serves on the development team for a local non-profit that provides services for human trafficking survivors and is an advocate for trafficking victims in local schools and churches and the Women’s Impact Fund.

Grace Eberle is a Chief Administrative Officer in Corporate Risk for Wells Fargo. She spends her time on human trafficking advocacy efforts, as well as, working with people with drug and alcohol addiction. She serves on the board of a local non-profit that provides services for human trafficking survivors.

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