Reports of human trafficking in North Carolina jumped 62 percent in 2016, the biggest year-over-year increase in recent memory.
The figures come from Polaris, a group named for the North Star that looks to eradicate modern slavery. Although an increase in reports is troubling on the one hand, Polaris analysts said the jump is more likely due to an increase in reporting, not necessarily an increase in trafficking incidents.
In a way, that’s a positive trend, said Polaris data analysis director Jennifer Penrose. “On the one hand, obviously, it’s not good that there are more cases that are being reported because we want there to be fewer and fewer cases,” said Penrose. “But our belief is that actually reflects that these cases are now coming to light and the survivors are getting help. Whereas before the cases were going unreported.”
There were 181 cases of human trafficking reported to the National Hotline for North Carolina in 2016, including 130 cases of sex trafficking and 41 cases of labor trafficking. Those figures were up sharply from 2015, in which 112 cases of human trafficking were reported.
One of the biggest hurdles for Polaris and similar groups is to get word to victims that help is out there. In that sense, seeing an increase in reporting could mean more victims are helped.
Of course, ultimately the goal is to reduce human trafficking to zero. Penrose encouraged all North Carolinians to be vigilant. Although some might think that human trafficking doesn’t affect them, Penrose said these incidents happen throughout an economy, not just in dark corners.
“For example, people often think of labor trafficking and they think of domestic work and people who are being held in homes and forced to provide cooking and cleaning and child care, and they may say, ‘Well I never encounter that,’” Penrose said. “But within the data we actually see, for example in North Carolina, that agriculture was the most common labor sector; and that we see across a wide variety of sectors including landscaping services, and restaurants, and food services, and construction.”
When something looks odd, it should be noted. “And so these are sectors where people may be encountering workers and might see something that strikes them as concerning or suspicious or someone may reach out for help,” said Penrose. “So knowing about the national hotline and where to report these cases is important.”
People can receive help or report a tip of suspected human trafficking by calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or by sending a text to Polaris at "BeFree" (233-733).