I had the opportunity to travel to the US-Mexico border in Arizona last month as part of a delegation of seven sheriffs from across the United States.
Over three days in several border communities, our group received briefings from various local, state and federal law enforcement agencies about the issues they confront while enforcing the laws at the border.
The main areas of concern at the border are the same concerns I have more than 2,000 miles away in Iredell County. The most impactful of concerns is the illegal drug trafficking, currency smuggling and human trafficking. The crimes at the border have a direct impact on the residents of Iredell County, as many of these criminals flee to the East Coast.
The U.S.-Mexico border is just a two-day drive from central Iredell County. Having two of the major travel arteries on the East Coast in the heart of Iredell County makes our community a prime location for human trafficking.
Human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States. According to the North Carolina Department of Administration, in 2017 North Carolina had 221 reported human trafficking cases. This number ranked North Carolina as the eight highest out of 50 states for human trafficking cases.
What exactly is human trafficking? Human trafficking is defined as when a sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or, the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. A victim does not have to be physically transported from one location to another for the crime to fall within these trafficking definitions.
North Carolina directly addresses human trafficking via N.C. General Statute 14-43.11. Human trafficking. (a) A person commits the offense of human trafficking when that person (i) knowingly or in reckless disregard of the consequences of the action recruits, entices, harbors, transports, provides, or obtains by any means another person with the intent that the other person be held in involuntary servitude or sexual servitude or (ii) willfully or in reckless disregard of the consequences of the action causes a minor to be held in involuntary servitude or sexual servitude.
The N.C. Safe Harbor/Victims of Human Trafficking law provides protections for and responses to minor victims, of human trafficking, decriminalizes prostitution-related offenses for minors, ensures the child welfare system has jurisdiction over child trafficking victims and mandates the creation of a plan of action for law enforcement and child welfare.
Human trafficking is one of the most difficult crimes to spot, because the victims are ordinary people. Learning the red flags and potential indicators is the first step in getting the help you or a victim needs.
What are some indicators of human trafficking? Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations or houses of worship? Has a child stopped attending school? Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior? Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts? Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse? Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing? Is the person fearful, timid or submissive? Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep or medical care? Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to? Does the person appear to be coached on what to say? Is the person living in unsuitable conditions? Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation? Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures? No single question will give you an answer. It is very important to look at all the indicators as a whole.
I am aware this topic can be difficult to discuss. However, if you see something, say something. If you have any additional questions about this topic or any other law enforcement related questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office at 704-878-3180.