NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Thousands of cases of human trafficking are reported in the United State each year and, according to the Department of Homeland Security, thousands more go unnoticed.
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month and both the Wilmington Police Department and the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office say it’s a problem in our area and across the United States.
Human trafficking is not just sex trafficking. Forced labor and domestic servitude also fall under this illegal industry that exploits thousands.
“This is slavery in modern-day form and we’ve got to put a stop to it,” WPD Spokeswoman Linda Thompson said.
“A couple of years ago, we had a high school student who was a victim of human trafficking, locally,” said Lt. Jerry Brewer with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office
Anyone can fall victim to exploitation through force, fraud, or coercion. The internet and apps have made that easier than ever.
“The old saying of working the streets is over with. Now they get on an app or some type of internet and within an hour getting someone out the door,” said Brewer.
It can happen to anyone, but traffickers often target vulnerable victims.
“I ask parents to please take a closer look at your children’s Facebook pages. Because they are easy targets especially if the child is a loner, doesn’t have any friends, they don’t socialize with anybody. They go through online means, social media means to traffic and recruit young people,” Thompson said.
Brewer says the opioid epidemic has made it easier for predators to target and keep victims in their control.
“Here in the U.S. a lot of times the crutch of it is they get hooked on drugs. A lot of time heroin being the most formidable one. They get hooked on heroin so they use the heroin to keep the victim in a position of servitude,” he said.
Law enforcement agencies across the area dedicate resources specifically to combating this problem... but there are ways you can help too.
“One of the clues to look for are people who are afraid to leave areas or to leave a certain geographic area. If they look like they’re being forced into something. Staying in motels, hotels against their will. You can tell they’re very intimidated,” Thompson said.
More information and resources can be found here.