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North Carolina's Fight Against Human Trafficking

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy
The Truth Network Radio
June 27, 2021 10:57 pm

North Carolina's Fight Against Human Trafficking

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy

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June 27, 2021 10:57 pm

This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs sits down with Shawna Pagano from Pat’s Place, the lead agency for North Carolina’s statewide initiative to fight human trafficking through Project NO REST. Pagano shares her experiences working with trafficking victims in North Carolina, and how Project NO REST is working to eliminate this modern-day slavery in our state.


Welcome to Family Policy Matters, an engaging and informative weekly radio show and podcast produced by the North Carolina Family Policy Council. Hi, this is John Rustin, President of NC Family, and we're grateful to have you with us for this week's program.

It's our prayer that you will be informed, encouraged and inspired by what you hear on Family Policy Matters, and that you will feel better equipped to be a voice of persuasion for family values in your community, state and nation. And now here is our host of Family Policy Matters, Tracy Devitt Griggs. Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Pat's Place has served as the lead agency for Project No Rest in Mecklenburg County. Project No Rest is a statewide initiative of the UNC Chapel Hill School of Social Work designed to increase awareness and enhance the response to human trafficking of North Carolina youth and young adults. Shawna Pagano, Human Trafficking Outreach Coordinator. Welcome to Family Policy Matters.

Hi, thanks for having me. So it's rather shocking to hear that North Carolina has historically been one of the worst states in the nation for human trafficking. Why is that? And are we seeing some improvement? Honestly, it's really hard to say how many cases of trafficking we have per state. The statistic to which you're referring comes from data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline. And each year they rank states depending on how many calls they received reporting tips about human trafficking. So when you say that North Carolina has historically been one of the worst states for trafficking, that is based on the number of calls by state to that hotline.

That number is only the tip of the iceberg. We honestly really don't know how many cases of human trafficking we have in each state. It's an extremely underreported crime. What's important to remember is that human trafficking happens in all 50 states in all areas. So all communities need to be educated about those red flags and how to report it. But we certainly see just in Charlotte alone more cases of human trafficking a year that are higher than what the entire state reports to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Right. So it is possible then to be fair, it is possible that the state has done a really good job of getting the information out about how this can be reported, that possibly even the tip line has been promoted better than in other places, and that we're actually just reaching more of these people.

So to be fair, that could be the case as well, right? But we do know we have a problem. We have a problem, but there are other factors that influence the number of calls to that hotline. So one of the goals of Project No Rest, which your organization is associated with, was to identify best practices for response to human trafficking.

So what have you found that works best in the Charlotte area? So responding to human trafficking takes a collaborative effort. It really does take all facets of the community working together. The needs of victims, as we'll discuss later, is the very exhaustive list. So it takes a strong commitment from that community to really make trafficking or response to human trafficking a priority. And having elected officials that also make that a priority make an impact in that community because that attitude permeates throughout the entire community. Pat's Place focuses on an approach of a one-stop shop for victims of abuse.

Is that a unique approach do you think? Pat's Place is a child advocacy center, is an accredited child advocacy center, and there are over 800 of those across the country. And the child advocacy center model of care in responding to allegations of abuse is based on a multidisciplinary team approach to child abuse cases that brings together law enforcement, criminal justice, child protective services, medical mental health workers into one coordinated team.

And it's really considered best practice when responding to any allegation of child abuse. Let's talk a little bit about public policy. The North Carolina General Assembly has passed several bills in the past few years trying to address the issue of human trafficking in our state.

Are you seeing some impact from that? One of the biggest impacts I see was from a change with session law 218-75, and it amended the definition of an abused juvenile in North Carolina. Prior to this law, a child who was abused by someone other than a parent or a guardian was not investigated by social services. And so children who were being trafficked by a trafficker who was not a parent were not included in that definition. So many of these children were falling through the cracks and the family needed support and they needed resources. And so that was one of the biggest change I saw was allowing human trafficking of anyone under the age of 18 to meet the legal definition of an abused juvenile, no matter who the abuser is, and really allow social services to help that family and provide some support, guidance, and some oversight.

And North Carolina is one of only a handful of states with that legal definition. The other thing we've seen in session law 2019-158 was a very necessary law in that it provided the opportunity for victims of human trafficking to expunge their criminal records for nonviolent offenses. And the reason that's important is because oftentimes victims of trafficking are forced to participate in criminal acts by their trafficker. And these criminal records make it very challenging for a survivor of traffic to, you know, find housing and employment and other really necessary things to be successful.

And so allowing those charges to be vacated or expunged was a very needed remedy. Are these often immigrants who are being trafficked? Are they local kids? Really we see victims of trafficking across the spectrum. Obviously, a majority of the cases that I work with are youth who are US citizens.

They were born in the US. However, we know that an immigration status can be used against a person and makes them vulnerable to trafficking. So we oftentimes see a lot of undocumented folks that may be victims of trafficking as well. I see that primarily in labor trafficking, but it occurs in sex and labor trafficking.

Wow, that's amazing. So I think many of us may think that human trafficking is happening to people who are shipped in from overseas or people who maybe are here without legal status and so they are more vulnerable. But what you're saying is that it could be our next door neighbor or teenager or our own child. That's one of the greatest myths that has permeated human trafficking for years is that victims are primarily those from other countries. And honestly, the message I really want to get across is that victims of trafficking can be anyone.

It doesn't matter who it is. We see it in rural, suburban, urban areas, in affluent neighborhoods, all socioeconomic statuses and races. This idea that it's only people shipped in here is really just not true. So talk more about the needs that you see. You mentioned some of the ways that this is being addressed in North Carolina. Are there some suggestions or recommendations for how you would like to see it continue to be addressed?

I'll speak to policy and legislation first. Currently, there is an effort to change legislation to allow those who buy sex from children to be charged with trafficking. Legally, a minor cannot consent to a commercial sex act, meaning they cannot consent to sexual activity in exchange for anything of value. And a person buying sex from a child, essentially a statutory rape, needs to be held accountable and treated as a trafficker. In fact, because they are furthering the sex trafficking industry. Session law 2019-158 did try to address this, but the statute's a bit muddy and needs clarification. So one of the things that I understand is happening is that there is an effort to clear that up, which is definitely a positive, and hopefully that will pass with flying colors. And honestly, I mean, when you have an adult that's engaging in sex with a child, we consider that child abuse, but if they somehow pay for that, somehow there's lesser penalties.

And that needs to be clarified. I also advocate for North Carolina to pass Aaron's law. Aaron's law is a name of legislation that requires child sexual abuse prevention education be taught to kids in school.

North Carolina is one of the only states that does not have Aaron's law. And child sexual abuse legislation is important because child sexual abuse is strongly correlated with later victimization through trafficking. And some studies show that as many as 90% of sex trafficking victims have a history of sexual abuse. So we need to be educating kids about body safety and sexual abuse from a young age in a developmentally and age appropriate manner so that we are preventing both child sexual abuse and hopefully later victimization through trafficking.

Parents, teachers, and community leaders, we all need to be more aware as well. So tell us what some of the biggest risk factors are that we should all be aware of when it comes to young people being targeted for trafficking. Traffickers target a child's vulnerability, and that can be anything. So if a child is looking for love and acceptance, a trafficker will offer that by pretending to be that child's boyfriend. If a young person is living on the street and needs food or a ride or shelter, then a trafficker will use that. But what I see most often is a teen who runs away from home and meets people who introduces them to a trafficker or to a life where they might be exploited. A young person may meet someone online, but sometimes when they meet a person online, they'll meet a trafficker who promises them everything in the world and then exploits them through trafficking. So really there's just any vulnerability that can be used against that youth, a trafficker will do it. Wow, that sounds like a parent's nightmare. So is there a most important thing or things that you can advise parents that they can do to protect their children from being at risk?

Absolutely. I would say the first thing parents can do is educate themselves on what trafficking really looks like and how it really happens. Parents are most concerned about their children being kidnapped, and we rarely see that. We see children who are targeted online, in schools, by other youth and in their neighborhood. And so when parents understand how trafficking happens, then they can have educated conversations with their children about what the children can be looking for, what children can be aware of. Telling kids just to watch out for strangers is not the answer.

But one of the other things parents really, I really encourage parents to do is be vigilant in monitoring your child's online behavior, since that is where many of the children and youth I work with connect with others who intend to harm them. So are there any bright spots? I know back in May, over 150 missing children were rescued safely. It was a joint operation between local and federal law enforcement agencies.

Was that a bright spot? And how can we repeat that? That operation was the first time an operation like that had been conducted in Charlotte. So kudos to Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department for taking that initiative. Missing children in that statistic include children who have run away. Not all of those recovered youth were victims of human trafficking.

So that's a good thing. Like there were some, but many of those kids who had run away, you know, when those children were identified, they could be provided services to address challenges within the family that might have contributed to them running away. So one of the great things about these operations is the fact that you identify children and families who might need support and then you can offer that. That's a great point is that these operations provide a way for us to really surround that family if they are interested. And again, not all of those youth were victims of human trafficking. There were some, but I do see most of the youth I work with who are victims of human trafficking have a history of running away. So I would say that what that operation highlights is the need for targeted runaway prevention and intervention efforts.

Well, we're just about out of time for this week. Before we go, Shauna Pagano, where can our listeners go to learn more about Pat's Place? They can go to our website, which is All of our information, our contact information is there as well as a lot of training opportunities that we offer for anyone in the community who's interested in hearing more about child abuse or human trafficking. Shauna Pagano, thank you so much for your good work and for being with us on Family Policy Matters.

You've been listening to Family Policy Matters. We hope you enjoyed the program and plan to tune in again next week. To listen to the show online and to learn more about NC Family's work to inform, encourage and inspire families across North Carolina, go to our website at That's Thanks again for listening and may God bless you and your family.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-26 11:35:52 / 2023-09-26 11:41:13 / 5

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