State News

House bill seeks human trafficking education, service funds

Posted May 9

— Some North Carolina House lawmakers say more must be done so young women avoid the forced sex trade and to help those rescued from human traffickers get their lives back on track.

North Carolina already has laws punishing human trafficking. But on Tuesday, House Republicans discussed their proposed legislation for a pilot program in three urban counties to teach public school students about the dangers of human trafficking and to teach law enforcement officers how to detect it.

The proposal, which could take tens of millions of dollars to carry out, also envisions funding in those counties — Wake, Mecklenburg and New Hanover — to help nonprofits create shelters that house sex-slave victims and to provide mental health services.

Current North Carolina law includes "safe harbor" provisions so that individuals held against their will to perform sex acts for cash can avoid prosecution for prostitution. But they often lack protection and physical and psychological assistance to overcome their scars, a chief sponsor of the bill said.

"What do you do with the women that don't have a good home to go back to?" asked Rep. Bill Brawley of Matthews at a Legislative Building news conference. He added that the measure is a "way of getting victims out and a place for them to live and to rehabilitate."

The National Human Trafficking Hotline said 181 such cases were reported in North Carolina during 2016, compared to 112 in 2015, according to documents provided by the sponsors. Nearly all of the reported cases last year were for situations in which individuals were being held for sex or labor. Brawley said the number of trafficking victims is likely well underreported and that the pilot could help 300 victims in its first year alone.

"It's a power relationship, and many if not most of these young women who are in trapped in this don't feel there's any way for them to get out of it," said Rep. Nelson Dollar of Cary, another sponsor. "It's a horrible circle, particularly when you lose hope."

Joy Anderson, 30, of Concord, identified herself at the news conference as a victim of sex trafficking. Anderson said she was freed from her trafficker during an FBI sting three years ago. She has benefited from a Concord nonprofit that provides treatment and therapy for similar trafficking victims.

"They've helped set this slave free," Anderson said. "I want that for every victim that's being forced to do this."

The bill seeks more than $50 million over two years to carry out the pilot. Dollar, a senior House budget-writer, downplayed specific numbers for now, calling the measure a work in progress. Brawley said he'd ultimately like to see a program go statewide and to increase penalties against traffickers.


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