PENDER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - After a recent human trafficking investigation led to three arrests in Pender County, local law enforcement is asking you to be vigilant and report anything out of the ordinary.
Since the launch of an investigation in June, three men between the ages of 19-25 are accused of human trafficking in Pender County.
While cases are rare in the rural community, Pender County Sheriff Alan Cutler says it does happen and that the cases are taken very seriously.
“I don’t think our community really needs to panic or have a big concern over this but I think we need to be vigilant and keep an eye out for it.” Cutler said. “If you do see anything, any kind of suspected human trafficking that may be going on just call law enforcement.”
Expert victims' advocates urge you to double-check what you may see on social media before you hit ‘share.’
Despite depictions on television and in movies like “Taken,” most cases of human trafficking do not involve someone chained up in a dark basement.
At the Coastal Horizons Rape Crisis Center in Wilmington, Amanda Piner and Chelsea Croom work as advocates for all kinds of survivors of sexual violence.
“Human trafficking in the southeastern North Carolina/Wilmington area -- which is really a hot spot for human trafficking -- here it can vary in what it looks like," Piner said. “Two of the most common forms of trafficking around here include escort services as well as illicit massage businesses."
They say victims often don’t identify as victims because their trafficker may coerce them with a false sense of love and security or the promise of a new life, and so while they believe social media has created a much greater awareness of human trafficking, they urge everyone to be careful to not share messages that could do more harm than good by perpetuating an inaccurate depiction of what trafficking is.
“We want victims, if they identify as a victim of human trafficking, we want them to feel empowered to reach out to us or to ask for help or to go to the hospital, or do anything like that but if we’re spreading these misconceptions then they may not ever identify with that and then they’re not going to know that they are a victim of human trafficking and to reach out for those services,” Croom said.
According to HumanTrafficking.org, many survivors experienced trafficking by romantic partners or family members.
No details have been released as to the nature of the alleged crimes in the Pender County case.
Investigators say those details will be made public once there is no risk of compromising the case.
“It’s a serious crime and we want the people who are guilty of this crime to pay,” said Sheriff Cutler.
You can read more information about common myths and misconceptions as well as signs and risk factors for human trafficking here.
For anyone who would like more information or to learn ways to help, the Rape Crisis Center offers educational presentations for any group in the area.
There is also a National Human Trafficking website and hotline (1-888-373-788) where you can call, text, email or live chat for help and information.