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Today’s slaves: Forum on human trafficking
Charlotte symposium focuses on public awareness
 
Published Thursday, November 15, 2012 7:00 am
by Herbert L. White

 

A Charlotte forum on modern-day slavery will focus on public awareness.

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PHOTO/KAY CHERNUSH
Women and children are most vulnerable to human trafficking, either as sex slaves or undocumented workers. Global trafficking of humans is a $32 billion industry according to the National Association of Attorneys General, with an estimated 21 million victims worldwide. The number of trafficked humans in the U.S. is inconclusive because many of the victims are American citizens in addition to people imported from other countries.


The Nov. 15 forum, sponsored by the Alpha Lambda Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, will explore human trafficking’s impact on Charlotte. The meeting is from 6-8 p.m. at West Charlotte High School and is part of the sorority’s Social Justice and Human Rights initiative.


“North Carolina has become one of the top states for human trafficking, the illegal trade in human beings for the purpose of commercial exploitation or forced labor,” Alpha Lambda Omega chapter President Patrice Wright wrote in an email to The Post. “The U.S. State Department estimates 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked into this country each year. Of these, more than 80 percent are women and 70 percent of them are forced into the commercial sex trade.”


Human trafficking is big business – worth $32 billion globally, according to the National Association of Attorneys General, made up top law enforcement officials from across the United States. The State Department estimates there are nearly 21 million trafficking victims worldwide, but the number within America’s borders are inconclusive because many of the victims are U.S. citizens. Whether home grown or imported, the victims work industries from the sex trade to restaurants, and most have been coerced through violence or threats of being turned over to law enforcement.


“It’s surprising the number of different industries where it can pop up,” said Megan Fowler, communications director of the Washington, D.C.-based Polaris Project, a nonprofit advocacy group that runs the National Human Trafficking Center hotline. “The traffickers can be very, very savvy. They’re really preying on people’s hopes.”


Women or children who wind up on the street because of domestic issues are most prone to exploitation in exchange for basic needs. The prospect of shelter and food are lures to a life of exploitation in the commercial sex trade or domestic servitude.


“A lot of kids are out there being exploited so they can have a place to stay or food to eat,” said Brennon Graham, executive director of The Relatives, a Charlotte nonprofit family crisis center. “They’re in the life and thinking ‘this is the best thing for me. It’s the best I can do.’”


Most of the trafficking hotline’s calls are related to the sex trade, Fowler said, but significant numbers have been linked to domestic servitude. The center reported taking 10,000 calls from every state in the union in 2011. By recognizing the signs of exploitation, more can be done to help its victims break the cycle of abuse and prosecute trafficking suspects.


“When more people understand what trafficking is, it becomes easier to identify victims and get them the support they need so they can get out of their situation and rebuild their lives, Fowler said. “When people know what to look for and call the hotline…they can be in a position to help that person.”


Said Graham: “It’s more about recognition of the issue now and the reporting of it. I truly believe this has been going on for a long time and it’s nothing new, but we’re realizing it’s young kids being victimized rather than young people choosing this life.”


To report suspected human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Center hotline at (888) 373-7888.

 

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