Victim helps raise awareness of human trafficking
Posted March 31, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — An estimated 27 million people, mostly women and children, are forced into exploited labor or sex acts each year, according to the U.S. State Department, and groups that track human trafficking data rank North Carolina as one of the top 10 states for the illegal activity.
Last July, for example, a couple was arrested at the Candlewood Suites in Fayetteville and charged with human trafficking after allegedly forcing a woman into prostitution. In November, a 49-year-old Youngsville man was charged with keeping a 15-year-old girl in a Raleigh hotel room and selling her for sexual services.
The Governor's Office and several organizations hosted a day of panel discussions at Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School on Monday to raise awareness about human trafficking in the state among students from across eastern North Carolina.
Holly Austin Smith told students in one session of how she became a victim of sex trafficking when she was 14. She met a man at a New Jersey mall who convinced her to run away with him, she said, and within hours, she was forced into prostitution in Atlantic City, N.J.
"I was manipulated, I was coerced and I was intimidated," Smith said.
She was able to escape her situation by getting arrested a couple of days later. Now 36, she has written "Walking Prey," a book about how America's youth are vulnerable to sex slavery.
"I have children of my own, and I want them to be exposed to everything that is going on," Smith said. "It's really important to get this message to teenagers because young teens are often the targets for sex traffickers. If we aren't going to tell them, then who is? They need to know that this is out there and that it's happening to their peers."
Gov. Pat McCrory last year signed legislation that increases criminal penalties in North Carolina for human trafficking and related crimes.