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Presidential Proclamation Highlights Human Trafficking

Woman covered in dirt with hands tied in front of her face - human trafficking

Following in the footsteps of several of his predecessors, President Joe Biden proclaimed January 2023 as National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In addition, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and Chief Justice Paul Newby have both declared January Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Even though the month is coming to an end, the work is far from over. There’s an estimated 27.6 million people in forced labor worldwide, whether physical or sexual. In 2021, there were over 10,000 identified human trafficking cases involving 16,000 victims just in the United States. Furthermore, North Carolina currently ranks number nine for the highest rates of human trafficking out of the fifty states. While this ranking is in line with North Carolina being the ninth most populated state, it is still cause for much concern.

What is human trafficking?

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines human trafficking as manipulating a person to perform a service for financial gain, whether by coercion, force, or fraud. The victim does not have to be physically transported to a different location for it to be considered trafficking. The Action-Means Purpose (AMP) model helps to determine if a situation is a case of human trafficking.

It is considered human trafficking if the potential trafficker did any of the following Actions:

  • Recruiting
  • Harboring
  • Transporting
  • Providing
  • Obtaining

….by any of the following Means:

  • Force
  • Fraud
  • Coercion

…for any of the following Purposes:

  • Exploitation
  • Involuntary Servitude
  • Peonage (working to pay off a debt)
  • Debt Bondage
  • Slavery

The exception to this model is in the case of minors. If the individual induced to perform a sex act is under 18, the use of force, fraud, or coercion does not need to be proven or present for it to be considered human trafficking.

Three Main Kinds of Trafficking

The North Carolina Department of Administration (NCDOA) has identified three types of human trafficking:

Sex Trafficking

This includes forcing people to perform a commercial sex act such as prostitution, pornography, stripping, or erotic massage. Many traffickers use a “grooming” process to gain trust while drawing their victims away from their support system. This can include praise, gifts, and positive attention. As the victim increasingly trusts them, the trafficker becomes more demanding, asking for things in return. Eventually, they stop positive interaction and simply use violence, threats, and coercion to control the victim. Youth who are particularly vulnerable, such as those who are homeless or identify as LGBTQ+, are at an increased risk of falling prey to grooming.

Based on the available data, sex trafficking makes up the majority of human trafficking cases and disproportionately affects women. Within sex trafficking, the most popular forms of commercial sex acts include pornography, illicit massage/spa businesses, and commercial sex either in hotels or in private residences.

Labor Trafficking

Labor trafficking takes place most often in industries that require large amounts of manual labor, such as agriculture, manufacturing, restaurants, and construction. Traffickers frequently rely on deception, financial desperation, and immigration status to initially catch their victims, then revert to tactics such as illegally withholding wages or threatening to report them to immigration authorities to keep them in the cycle of abuse. Because these industries are often out of sight, it is particularly difficult to identify labor trafficking cases.

Based on the available data, the most popular industry for labor trafficking is agriculture. Because much of North Carolina’s industry is based on agriculture, our state is especially susceptible to labor trafficking. A 2019 study estimated that 17,000 migrant farmworkers each year may have experienced some form of labor exploitation in their lifetime, with nearly 11,000 experiencing labor trafficking and over 13,000 experiencing other forms of abuse and exploitation. One study found that being undocumented was the strongest predictor of experiencing labor abuse.

Domestic Servitude

Sometimes considered a form of labor trafficking, domestic servitude is when individuals are hired as live-in house cleaners or childcare workers and find themselves working unreasonably long hours for little to no pay. Many of these victims are immigrants who are brought over through a visa-sponsorship program. Their employers frequently use their immigration status as blackmail, and because it occurs in private residences, these cases are extremely difficult to identify.

Human Trafficking in North Carolina

North Carolina has been ranked as the state with the ninth highest rate of human trafficking for a variety of reasons. As Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West explains, “We’re one of the more populated states and we’re a growing state. We’re also a state with a lot of tourism, sports and otherwise. And so, unfortunately, I think that drives some of this activity.”

As mentioned above, agriculture is abundant across the state, and so it creates the demand for cheap labor. In addition, rural areas and military communities, such as Raleigh, Durham, and Fayetteville, are common locations for labor trafficking. Finally, the I-95 corridor in eastern North Carolina is used as a pipeline for transporting trafficked individuals up and down the U.S. eastern seaboard.

What You Can Do About It

Human trafficking continues to be a heartbreaking injustice across the world. The intent behind making January National Human Trafficking Awareness Month is to raise awareness about human trafficking and to educate the public about how to identify and prevent these crimes. Here are a few things that can be done to help end what has been termed “modern slavery.”

  • Know the signs and report anything suspicious: The National Human Trafficking Hotline relies on people sharing their concerns, and offers a 24/7 hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888 to report concerns. In addition to this, they also have a list of the key signs to watch for in human trafficking.
  • Get involved with a local nonprofit: There are several nonprofits helping victims of human trafficking, such as Project No Rest and North Carolina Stop Human Trafficking.
  • Educate others: Share this information with others to help raise awareness of human trafficking.

In an interview on Family Policy Matters, Shawna Pagano, a leader in the human trafficking prevention movement in North Carolina, shared, “Responding to human trafficking takes a collaborative effort. It really does take all facets of the community working together.”

We can all play a role in ending the injustice of human trafficking!


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