The North Carolina Human Trafficking Commission welcomed SBI Special Agent in Charge Kellie Hodges to its December meeting to offer updates about the newest personnel assigned to the SBI’s Human Trafficking Unit and the agency’s investigative priorities.

He introduced Casey Fillinger as the assistant special agent in charge for the SBI’s Human Trafficking Unit. He said that they are currently a unit of four and hope to hire four more in the coming months. His goal is to proactively investigate cases involving networks with multiple traffickers but will also assist local law enforcement agencies as needed.

Hannah Arrowood, founder and executive director of Present Age Ministries and vice chair of the Charlotte Metro HT Task Force, presented a three-year data collection project from the task force.

“Data and the Story it Tells” detailed how the task force collected data about the sexually exploited minors that they serve and how they hope to use this data.

She shared that 70 percent of the minor victims identified and/or served by the task force were 15 years old or younger. The final report will be released on Jan. 11, 2023.

Commission Changes:

Chair Jennifer Haigwood announced this will be her last meeting as chair, but she will continue to be a commission member for a few more months.

She announced that Dr. Tommy Bernard has resigned his position on the commission.

Chair Haigwood said that she hopes the position of chair and of the health care representative will be filled soon.

This is the first in-person the NC Human Trafficking Commission held since COVID in 2020.

Committee Reports

In the absence of Caitlin Brooks, the legislative committee chair, Haigwood shared that currently the legislative agenda consists of several minor technical changes.

Public Safety Committee Chair Marc Nichols announced an increase of human trafficking arrests, which he attributes to the additional training that law enforcement officers are receiving. He stated that the Justice Academy is providing more human trafficking training.

He announced that Rick Hoffman is leading a two-day training for law enforcement December 19-20.

Appropriations Chair Angelica Wind announced that all funding has been awarded for facility improvements (Section 16.22).

She announced that 88 agencies are eligible for the Economic Assistance Grants for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Agencies (Section 16.23), but only 18 applications have been received to date (Dec. 7). The deadline was Dec. 14.

In Section 16.20, 25 specific agencies were named in the statute as eligible to receive funding for providing direct services to survivors. The commission is in the process of hiring a grants manager specifically to manage these 25 grants. No Request for Proposals have been issued.

Commissioner Caitlin Ryland requested that as the commission distributes these funds that it look strategically at how agencies serving human trafficking victims are funded long-term.

When grants only fund a position for a year or two, many times the staff member has gotten fully trained, made great contacts in the community and then the grant ends.

Other Reports

Sara Depasquale of the UNC School of Government has contracted with the Human Trafficking Commission to create a tool to assist individuals and agencies in understanding when they must report Human Trafficking to Law Enforcement and/or the Department of Social Services. Click here to view her presentation.

Kerry Dodson of Hope for Justice presented their model for serving human trafficking victims. Their US Headquarters is in Nashville, Tennessee.

They plan to open a Regional Center in Charlotte in January 2023. From their website:  “The North Carolina Regional Center is the first of several Regional Centers planned over the next three to five years – creating a network throughout the U.S. that will expand our reach, deepen our impact, and create resilient communities where survivors of human trafficking can thrive.”

Lily Pad Haven Inc. is now part of the Hope for Justice family and is known as the Hope for Justice North Carolina Regional Center.

The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for February 16. Check the website for details.