Cover Story: Human trafficking

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV)  The case of a five-year old girl from Fayetteville allegedly sold into slavery bringing to light an issue not many people know about: human trafficking. Slavery going on in the Carolinas, and it's happening in the Charlotte area.

It's because of our city's size, our proximity to a number of major highways and our growing immigrant population.

Five-year old Shaniya Davis allegedly sold into slavery.  It's certainly not the first case in North Carolina, and say human rights advocates certainly won't be the last.

Recent cases here in the Charlotte area:  Jorge Flores-Rojas, a Mexican national, convicted of moving teenage girls between Washington, DC and Charlotte and forcing them to perform sex acts.

Mercedes Farquharson arrested this summer.  Authorities in Union county say she treated her two adopted daughters as house slaves.

Estefania San Juan who works with the Charlotte non-profit Legal Services of Southern Piedmont and assists victims forced into slavery says it doesn't just happen in far off lands.

The United States she says is a major receiving country for trafficking victims.  And in North Carolina and places like Charlotte it's growing.

"Absolutely.  There's demand unfortunately."

That which makes our state good for business and commerce, our highways.. also makes it good for human trafficking.

Victims are transported through North Carolina.  Some are put into service here in Charlotte, Charlotte being the biggest city between Atlanta and Washington.

San Juan says for perpetrators of human trafficking it pays off - more than say drug trafficking or trafficking in weapons.

"The reason why this happens is because it's very profitable for traffickers to keep exploiting a human being over and over whereas with another crime it's a one-time transaction," she says.

It's estimated that a million trafficking victims are moved across international borders each year.  20-thousand of those come into the United States.

And it doesn't have to be by force.

They come here promised a job only to find that's not the case.  They wind up in servitude.. in domestic labor or doing farm work.  Some end up in the sex trade.

North Carolina has taken the lead in attacking the problem.. in recent years enacting legislation that makes human trafficking not only a federal crime but a state crime as well.

The case of Shaniya Davis is bringing to light an issue not many people know about.

"It's important for us to realize as a community that this is going on. And we shouldn't wait for such an awful example of this horrible crime to start paying attention to possible victims."

North Carolina is ranked consistently in the top 10 for having trafficking activity.

Charlotte has a Anti-Trafficking Task Force, a type of rapid response team that'll go in and aid victims if law enforcement finds evidence of human trafficking either in a police raid or when notified by neighbors or members of the community.

Here's a number you can call if you suspect someone may be held against his or her will.. it's the number for the National Resource Center 1 888 373-7888.