Following the state Senate’s Wednesday passage of “Safe Harbor” legislation stipulating that minors involved in sex work be treated as victims rather than criminals, the Star-News hosted a panel on human trafficking. Federal prosecutors and other experts engaged 120 audience members at Cape Fear Community College on Thursday. Panelists issued a call to action to better detect and battle the problem, which they say is pervasive in the coastal region.
Because coastal North Carolina is a hotbed of tourism, agriculture and immigration, experts say its youths may be at increased risk of becoming enslaved in sex work and other forms of exploitative labor. Panelist Jennifer Fish, curriculum coordinator for the North Carolina Department of Justice, notes that while this form of modern-day slavery isn’t necessarily happening more often, people are finally getting better at detecting it. Fish says we’re on the brink of a “human trafficking movement,” but that it’s only in its beginning stages. Legislators, law enforcement and the community are gradually becoming educated about this crime and how it manifests. Experts also say today’s pimps tend to target young people online, and typically seek kids who seem unhappy at home or school. Signs of victimhood include branding in the forms of piercing and tattoos, lack of ID or cell phones, psychological boundaries and restricted freedom of movement.