Someone once said, “You cannot change what you refuse to confront.” For many, the notion of human slavery is far fetched and foreign—something from a bygone era that has no place in our modern, civilized society. However, the reality paints a much darker picture and one that we cannot afford to stand idly by and allow to continue.
This week, I hosted a Summit on Human Trafficking on UNC-Charlotte’s campus to focus on ways to reduce human trafficking in our local communities while providing necessary assistance to victims. We heard from an amazing panel of local activists, including a law enforcement officer, nonprofit groups, a UNC-Charlotte professor and a survivor of human trafficking. I am so incredibly grateful for all of their help and participation, but even more so for their hard work and dedication to this important issue.
Human trafficking and sex slavery are tragedies all over the world that we must address now. The recent news of the nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria who were kidnapped by the terrorist organization Boko Haram is absolutely horrifying and has rightfully captured the attention of the global community. However, the truth is our children and young men and women right here at home are being taken, held against their will and forced into this despicable criminal industry.
Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the country. North Carolina ranks as one of the top 10 most likely states in the U.S. where human trafficking takes place. Traffickers can easily transport victims using I-85 and I-95 and widely attended events in our state.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately 300,000 children are at risk of being prostituted in the United States, and in our country, human trafficking generates $9.5 billion a year. According to some estimates, approximately 80 percent of trafficking involves sexual exploitation, and 19 percent involves labor exploitation. Of the nearly 800,000 people trafficked across international borders every year, 70 percent are female and half are children. The average age a teen enters the sex trade in the U.S. is 12 to 14 years old. Many victims are runaway girls who were sexually abused as children.
These statistics are unacceptable. But what is worse are the people who have suffered and who are suffering right now. Human trafficking is more painful and more devastating than what any statistic can describe.
Our efforts to end this crime need to be updated to match the problem as it stands today. We need to refocus our efforts and update our current laws to ensure that our communities, including local law enforcement officials and prosecutors, are given the appropriate tools and resources to protect the most vulnerable in our society, provide assistance to victims, and apprehend and punish traffickers.
Currently, there are two pieces of legislation that I co-sponsored to combat human trafficking and protect our children. The SAVE ACT (H.R. 4225) is a bill by my colleague Rep. Ann Wagner that will criminalize the advertisement of innocent victims being forced into sex slavery. I am also a cosponsor of Rep. Ted Poe’s Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (H.R. 3530) which is a comprehensive anti-human trafficking bill that aims to rescue domestic victims, track down their exploiters, and provide additional tools to prosecutors.
We have a moral obligation to stand up and protect our innocent children and the most vulnerable in our society, and I remain committed to doing all that I can to put an end to this crime, assist victims and hold bad actors accountable.
I am so grateful to our participants and all of those who helped out with and attended our summit on this important issue this week. Your support for raising awareness and caring for victims is so important and I encourage everyone in our community to get involved and explore ways that you can help combat this horrific practice.