Thanks to a three-year campaign to build awareness around the issue of human trafficking, law enforcement agencies, child welfare and mental health workers, legal advocates, and nonprofit organizations are better prepared to identify and respond to labor and sexual trafficking incidents in North Carolina. At the same time, more in-depth training is still needed to ensure that victims receive the services they need and to prevent trafficking statewide, according to results of a recent study from UNC School of Social Work Researcher Rebecca Macy.
The findings were part of a rigorous evaluation of North Carolina’s efforts to provide comprehensive services to “pre-certified foreign national victims” of human trafficking—undocumented immigrants who are in the country as a result of force, fraud or coercion. These individuals are considered among the more vulnerable victims of trafficking because they don’t yet have the certification or recognition they need from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the Office of Refugee Resettlement to access federal services and support.
However, the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NCCASA) has been working to address this gap in services as well as the state’s overall capacity to deal with human trafficking. In 2010, the nonprofit received a multi-year grant from the federal Office for Victims of Crime to develop a statewide plan and in turn, tapped Macy to assess the project (Ph.D. student Jenny O’Brien assisted Macy with the research). NCCASA also worked closely with Legal Aid of North Carolina, the North Carolina Coalition Against Human Trafficking (NCCAHT), the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office, and the Salvation Army of Wake County to develop the statewide response.
Overall, Macy found that the state has done a good job building coalitions to tackle human trafficking, including bringing service providers and law enforcement professionals to the table to work together. Efforts have also been successful in educating various agencies and groups to identify and recognize human trafficking, she said, but additional work is needed.
“The next step is how do you help prosecutors prepare a case for trial?” said Macy, the School’s L. Richardson Preyer Distinguished Chair for Strengthening Families. “Or how do you help a licensed clinical social worker who has identified someone as a victim of human trafficking provide needed trauma counseling?”
Nationally, the U.S. State Department estimates that 800,000 people are trafficked worldwide every year—50 percent of which are children age 13 on average. The state’s greatest challenge may be in determining how big of a problem human trafficking really is in North Carolina, especially given that no single agency consistently tracks the data, Macy said.
“It is an interesting issue because we have a lot of people who feel passionately about it and want to address it, but we don’t have any sense of the real true scope of the problem or how pervasive it is here,” she said.
Nevertheless, federal and state officials have noted that North Carolina’s major highways and ports, military bases and agricultural industry are among the risk factors that appeal to the trafficking trade.
“So while we don’t have a handle on the numbers just yet, we know that (trafficking) is a problem, and the idea is how do we begin to develop statewide or community capacity so that there’s infrastructure in place that will lead to some changes,” Macy said.
Part of that plan will require that the state continue to improve communication and coordination between all the various groups tackling the issue, the study found. Human trafficking is a complex problem that neither social work, law enforcement, the health care industry nor the criminal justice system can resolve alone, Macy said.
“All of those folks are going to play a role, but our professional training and paradigms and goals are so different,” she said. “For me, as a social worker, the goal of recovery and getting somebody stable is the goal. Where for someone in criminal justice, getting somebody prosecuted and holding people accountable would be the foremost thing. And legal aid may be really concerned with how do I help this person get a Visa and not incriminate themselves. So how we all work together on this has been and will continue to be a challenge, but we are starting to see some success.”
Because of North Carolina’s demographic and geographic makeup, the state also has the opportunity to demonstrate leadership on the issue, especially in addressing trafficking in rural communities, Macy added.
“Regardless, I just commend all the people who are working on this because with globalization, trafficking is going to be an ongoing issue,” she said. “People are crossing boundaries, and people are making money off of other human beings. But the fact that we’re doing this in North Carolina—that we’re trying to address it and that we have some resources to look into it—is very exciting.”