New protections, resources in place for victims of human trafficking



(The Center Square) – Victims of human trafficking have new protections and resources in North Carolina.

Definition of the crime was expanded through legislation in Senate Bill 626. Gov. Roy Cooper signed it Friday.

The law gives human trafficking victims a statutory right to seek a permanent no-contact order against their trafficker, protections previously only afforded to victims of sex crimes.

The legislation, which passed both chambers unanimously, also provides an exemption from state law that prohibits awards from the Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund if victims participate in a misdemeanor “at or about the time that the victim’s injury occurred.”

Human trafficking in North Carolina often involves victims who are forced to commit sexual acts, and SB626 allows those victims to collect from the fund if they were “coerced or deceived into participating in the nontraffic misdemeanor as a direct result of the person’s status as a victim.”

The definition of human trafficking was expanded, as well, to include a person who knowingly or in reckless disregard of the consequences “patronizes” or “solicits” another to steer them into involuntary servitude or sexual servitude.

“The new law will help provide victims with much-needed protections,” said Jennifer Haigwood, chairwoman of the North Carolina Human Trafficking Commission.

A legislative incarceration fiscal note on SB626 found “there is no data to predict how many additional convictions may result from the … broadening of the current statute.” The report identified 32 charged with human trafficking in 2022 – 19 for crimes involving minors and 13 involving adults – and 19 charged with sexual servitude, including 10 cases involving minors and nine involving adults.

Only one case resulted in conviction for human trafficking of a minor, and three for human trafficking an adult. None were convicted of sexual servitude in fiscal year 2021-22, according to the fiscal research division.

Cyber Tipline data from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation’s Crimes Against Children Task Force shows tips received have increased from 4,930 in 2019 to 19,565 in 2022, while the number of investigations have also increased from 1,358 to 3,708 during the same time.

Arrests, meanwhile, have fluctuated, going from 177 in 2019 to 360 in 2020, before decreasing to 310 in 2021 and 244 in 2022. Cases accepted for federal prosecution have followed a similar pattern, with 52 in 2019, 153 in 2020, 71 in 2021, and 44 in 2022.

A variety of factors make North Carolina a prime location for both labor and sex-related trafficking, including the state’s numerous military bases, status as a coastal state, major highways, and a large agricultural industry, Pam Strickland, founder of the nonprofit NC Stop Human Trafficking, previously told The Center Square.

The changes in the law follow numerous efforts in recent years to address the issue that include a dedicated task force assembled earlier this year through the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina to coordinate law enforcement and prosecutors in the Raleigh-Cary area. Other recent work involves research on prevalence by the Charlotte Metro Human Trafficking Task Force that identified 170 minors suspected or confirmed as victims of human trafficking between January 2020 and December 2022.

In October, the Human Trafficking Commission awarded more than $2 million in grants to 61 agencies to combat the problem.

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