Human Trafficking getting attention in Charlotte, Salisbury, as part of national slavery awareness campaign

Human Trafficking getting attention in Charlotte, Salisbury, as part of national slavery awareness campaign

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and

representatives of community organizations gathered on Friday in recognition of “National Slavery and

Human Trafficking Prevention Month.”

In addition, an organization devoted to raising awareness and preventing human trafficking is holding a special event in Salisbury on Saturday night.

"We're just hoping people will open their eyes, realize that it's going on, and be willing to get up and speak out that we'll have more voices against this," said Mitzi Weber who will be working with Triad Ladder of Hope in Salisbury.  

"People thought this was going on in other countries or in big cities, not right here in Salisbury, or our back doors," Weber added.

During an early morning press conference, on Friday, Anne M.Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, emphasized the importance of raising public awareness on this issue and highlighted the continued efforts of the Charlotte Metropolitan Human Trafficking Task Force (CMHTTF) in fighting this modern-day form of slavery.

The Charlotte Metropolitan Human Trafficking Task Force comprises law enforcement agencies – including ICE-Homeland Security Investigations, the FBI, and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department – federal and state prosecutors and community organizations.

In Friday's remarks, U.S. Attorney Tompkins noted that a coalition of law enforcement agencies working side by side with community groups, equally committed to fighting this epidemic, is a powerful combination of resources in the fight against human trafficking.

Ms. Tompkins praised the work of the task force's community partners for their commitment to helping rescued victims and providing them with much-needed assistance, such as food, shelter, medical attention and mental health services.

“Human Trafficking Prevention Month is a painful reminder that there are men, women and children within our communities trapped in a life of bonded labor, violence and forced prostitution for little or no pay.

The Charlotte Metropolitan Human Trafficking Task Force is a strong coalition of law enforcement agencies and community organizations working together to fight this form of modern-day slavery, assist victims and prosecute the criminals who commit these acts,” said U.S. Attorney Tompkins.

“Homeland Security Investigations is committed to working with our partners both inside and outside of law enforcement to break the victims of human trafficking free from their bondage,” said Joe Gallion, Deputy Special Agent in Charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Charlotte. “By working together across the enforcement and advocacy spectrum, we will ensure that the criminals are put behind bars and their victims have help in taking their first steps on the journey to healing.”

“Human trafficking victims are trapped in lives of misery—often beaten, starved, and forced to work as prostitutes or to take grueling jobs with little or no pay. The FBI devotes a significant amount of resources to hold those accountable who sacrifice another person's civil rights and
freedom for their own profit,” said John A. Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in North Carolina.

“Moore & Van Allen launched its Human Trafficking Pro Bono Project in late 2013, to offer victims of human trafficking free legal representation in a variety of areas including victim-witness advocacy, criminal record expunction, and civil protective orders. The Project also focuses on facilitating community collaboration and awareness. The firm looks forward to the continued momentum of this important work,” said Sarah Byrne, Moore & Van Allen Conflicts Counsel and Charlotte Metropolitan Human Trafficking Task Force Member. “Gathering members of the bar and the bench, together with law enforcement and service providers like we have today is important because of the intersections between trafficking and domestic violence, trafficking and child abuse, trafficking and the juvenile justice system, and trafficking and runaway children.

Only by recognizing these often hidden victims and connecting them to necessary services can we, as a community, offer justice and healing to survivors of this horrific crime,” Byrne added.

U.S. Attorney Tompkins thanked all the law enforcement agencies and community groups for their invaluable assistance and praised their work and ongoing collaboration.

The press conference was followed by a half-day training workshop organized by the task force.

The training was open to service providers, law enforcement, members of the judiciary and attorneys, and focused on the realities of human trafficking, victim identification and best practices support services.

The Salisbury event is sponsored by Triad Ladder of Hope, a faith based, non profit organization that will soon be opening an office in Salisbury.

"North Carolina is actually ranked #8 right now as having the highest number of victims that are trafficked," Weber added.  "That's because of the interstates that we have running through North Carolina as well as the agriculture that we have here too, plus we have port cities, military bases, all those things contribute to having a higher rate of trafficking."

Called the "First Annual Human Trafficking Awareness Gala," the masquerade themed event will be held at the Rowan Museum and will feature testimonies from victims of human trafficking, as well as a presentation from Juanita Miller, a former victim advocate with the FBI.