“There are more people trapped in slavery today than ever before in human history,” according to the End It Movement, a coalition of nonprofits fighting against human trafficking. The group reports that there are over 40 million victims of modern day slavery in the world today.
How does human trafficking affect North Carolina? What are we, as a state, doing to combat this issue, and what more can be done?
The issue of human trafficking has gained recent traction in the public consciousness, perhaps in part due to the arrest and subsequent death of child abuser Jeffrey Epstein in 2019. As the Epstein case continues to unfold, many Americans are questioning the prevalence of pedophilia and human trafficking more broadly in the US.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline reports that North Carolina had the 11th highest number of human trafficking cases in 2019 among the states. The full report on North Carolina from 2018 – the most recent year available – revealed the state had 287 cases of human trafficking that year, equating to 853 victims and 161 traffickers found.
These numbers include both sex trafficking and forced labor trafficking, and the hotline notes that the numbers are likely much lower than the reality due to underreporting.
North Carolina has taken steps in recent years to combat human trafficking in the state. The North Carolina Human Trafficking Commission (NCHTC) was originally created in the 2012 state budget on a temporary basis, and was permanently enacted with a 2013 bill.
NCHTC is housed in the judicial branch and is tasked with research, advocacy, and providing practical assistance to local law enforcement. Perhaps its most important function is informing public policy through legislative recommendations. The General Assembly passed the NCHTC’s 2019 recommendations on a bi-partisan basis during the last long legislative session. The recommendations and legislation deal with how the law criminalizes trafficking and provides avenues of civil relief for victims.
In addition to the NCHTC, the state Department of Administration also has several programs geared towards human trafficking prevention. Project C.O.P.E. is geared towards youth while SEE NC is geared towards “marginalized and underserved” communities (although it is unclear from their website on how they define those terms).
From a public policy perspective, it seems as if the state is taking pro-active measures to combat human trafficking. According to the NCHTC’s fact sheet,
“North Carolina received an “A” rating in the national fight against human trafficking, according to a 2019 report produced by Shared Hope International. North Carolina’s report card rating of 94 is an improvement from the 90 rating received in 2018 and a significant improvement from the 61 (or D) rating in 2011. North Carolina’s ranking among states improved from 9th in 2018 to 8th overall over the past year.”
With this in mind, the natural next question is “What else can be done?”
Combating human trafficking is certainly an issue worthy of public investment through government intervention. Through law enforcement and the judicial system, much of the responsibility to respond does fall to government. Most people would probably be glad that their tax dollars were being put to good use, in contrast to many other areas in which government intervenes inappropriately.
But conservatives know that government alone is never the answer. The work of nonprofits should not be minimized in this effort. Additionally, institutions such as churches and community groups have a role to play. I first learned about the End It Movement at a 2012 Christian conference for young people that highlighted the cause and raised a subsequent $3 million to help fight human trafficking.
An overwhelming message from many of the organizations – governmental or otherwise – leading the fight against human trafficking is that raising awareness is key. As mentioned, the National Human Trafficking Hotline says that their numbers are likely understated due to underreporting. Knowing the warning signs and speaking up when someone may be in danger is a way in which all North Carolinians can join the fight. For more information, visit the End It Movement website here.