Content warning: This article includes mentions of sexual violence.
Gov. Roy Cooper recently proclaimed January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month and Jan. 11 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day to promote the role of all North Carolinians in preventing trafficking and helping victims and survivors.
“We applaud Governor Roy Cooper for proclaiming January as Human Trafficking Awareness month in North Carolina," the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said in an emailed statement. "We know that any efforts to bring more attention to this crime will help in the ongoing fight to end sex trafficking."
According to Pam Strickland, the founder and CEO of NC Stop Human Trafficking, human trafficking is using force, fraud or coercion on someone to get them to commit sex or labor acts from which they don't benefit.
The governor’s press release stated that North Carolina had the 12th-highest amount of human trafficking cases in the U.S. in 2021 and has consistently been in the top 15 states in the past five years.
In 2020, 102 charges for human trafficking were made in N.C., and all three sex trafficking defendants were convicted, according to the North Carolina Human Trafficking Commission.
In order to prevent human trafficking, Strickland said NC Stop Human Trafficking takes three approaches to the issue: training the general public, collaborating with businesses and organizations and advocating for policy changes.
Strickland also said human trafficking victims often do not identify themselves as victims, so NC Stop Human Trafficking educates people who might come into contact with victims on how to look for signs that they have been affected by it.
She also said the organization is hoping to increase the severity of consequences for those charged with human trafficking crimes. In North Carolina, currently, human trafficking constitutes a Class F felony in cases with adult victims and a Class C felony in cases with child victims, which carry sentences of 10 months to three and a half years in prison or three and a half to over 15 years in prison, respectively.
One group that NC Stop Human Trafficking is particularly excited about is the NC Demand Reduction Task Force, Strickland said.
“We have to understand that human trafficking is a business, and so like any other business, there is supply and demand,” Strickland said.
The task force — a group of nonprofits, agencies and individuals across the state — is working to reduce the demand for human trafficking. To address the problem of the buyers, Strickland said they plan to educate the public about the harms of objectification and the consumption of pornography.
Bill Woolf, formerly the director of Human Trafficking Programs within the Department of Justice, said he oversaw a budget of $100 million while working there. The majority of this money, he said, was used for grant programs, training and technical assistance.
As a previous organized crime detective, Woolf was working to combat the crime syndicate MS-13 when he encountered his first human trafficking case. After realizing the realities of human trafficking, he said he shifted his focus to combat human trafficking specifically, and he became the lead detective of the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force and founded his own nonprofit.
Woolf said some of the largest obstacles for those working against human trafficking include not only a lack of funding, but also a general lack of understanding about what human trafficking is and how to identify victims.
“One of the biggest challenges to people doing work in this space is awareness,” Woolf said. “It helps elevate the issue when you have leaders like the governor who are willing to recognize the prevalence of the problem.”
He believes Cooper's announcement will help pour valuable resources towards the cause.
Strickland said her nonprofit is looking at the month of January as an opportunity to spread information and provide resources, including holding seven webinars.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline is (888) 373-7888. Visit humantraffickinghotline.org for more information.
@DTHCityState | email@example.com
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.