Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"The State of Things" today on human trafficking

Today's "The State of Things," at noon on WUNC, will feature a discussion of human trafficking in North Carolina. Participants will include Donna Bickford, director of the Carolina Women's Center at UNC; David Munday, retired from the North Carolina Highway Patrol; Mark Kadel of World Relief; and Kate Woomer-Deters, a Legal Aid attorney who is also on the task force of RIPPLE (Recognition, Identification, Protection, Prosecution, Liberation and Empowerment), a state organization that concentrates its efforts on this issue.

How can sex slavery exist in 21st century North Carolina? Here's a report from Charlotte:

At night, men, mostly immigrants, lined up outside to wait their turn with young Latino women held as sex slaves. A typical session lasted 15 minutes, police say, and cost each customer about $30. Some women had sex with dozens of men a night.

Police shut down the brothel in July 2004. But authorities say many more dot the city.

In neighborhoods along North Tryon Street, The Plaza and South Boulevard, criminals have turned small, unassuming homes into illegal houses of prostitution, holding women against their will. Police shut down two last week, but declined to give details because of ongoing investigations.

Hundreds of Latina women are brought in and out of Charlotte every week to work at more than a dozen brothels connected to sex-trafficking rings on the East Coast, according to FBI and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police investigators.

Most of the women are in the country illegally and are reluctant to report the crimes. Often locked in rooms with few clothes and no telephone, they fear being beaten if they try to escape.

"No one thinks of Charlotte and human trafficking," said Capt. Bruce Bellamy, head of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police vice and narcotics unit. "But it's a far greater issue than people realize."

A year ago, around the time the Carolina Women's Center held its first conference on the subject, Ruth Sheehan wrote about it from Raleigh:

The federal government estimates 14,500 to 17,500 victims are brought into the United States for forced labor each year, many of whom are sexually exploited women and children. They come, or are brought here, from Asia, Central America, South America, Russia and Eastern Europe.
It is often a fine line that distinguishes sex trafficking from prostitution. Trafficking victims are coerced into their roles, literally sold like pieces of equipment. (Average price, according to the U.S. State Department: $2,500.) Most victims have no idea they are entering the sex trade.
Many are lured out of poverty by wily operators who promise them lucrative jobs in factories, department stores and hotels.
When the women arrive, their passports or travel documents are taken, and they are soon forced into having sex for pay, sometimes with as many as 50 men a night.
At another brothel busted in Raleigh last fall, women and young teenagers were allegedly held under lock and key.
Many can't speak English. They are often afraid of the police. Sometimes they don't even know where they are.
Men are victimized in North Carolina too.

The Carolina Women's Center is hosting another conference on April 21. Tune in at noon if you can to learn more.

UPDATE: Via Ed Cone, more and more and more.

And further: On May 7 I will be proposing a resolution to the Town Council on this topic. In addition to directing our own police department to watch vigilantly for this problem, the resolution will lend support to a bill pending in the state Generaly Assembly, proposed by Sen. Ellie Kinnaird (see also House version) to provide support and civil remedies for victims of human trafficking.

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