A common question we get asked is, “Does human trafficking happen in North Carolina?”

Human trafficking occurs in North Carolina every day.

The minimal available data answers the question, and though it isn’t a full picture, it does provide a snapshot.

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, in 2021, North Carolina ranks No. 12 in the nation for confirmed human trafficking cases. That amounts to 233 cases and 340 victims involved.

What this number and ranking fails to represent is local, state, and federal law enforcement investigations; services and shelter provided by domestic violence agencies; rape crisis responses; emergency department physicians treating victims; child advocacy centers responding to the sex trafficking of a child; all the unreported and unseen victims; and last, but surely not least, human trafficking organizations serving survivors of human trafficking.

The Safe House Project estimates, through extrapolated data, that the number of actual cases could be as high as 22,300 in 2021 in North Carolina.

To unpack that further, the report “Exploitation of Minors in the Queen City: An Examination of Human Trafficking of Minors in Mecklenburg County” highlighted 170 confirmed cases of human trafficking over a 3-year span, and that is only one county of 100 in the state.

The Pitt County Human Trafficking Multidisciplinary Team has a history of serving up to 26 victims a month (but to be clear, that isn’t every month, and these survivors are at different points in their recovery journey, with the sweeping majority being adults).

And if the numbers don’t paint the picture of the prevalence anecdotal information our staff receives may.

After health care training that NC Stop Human Trafficking staff leads, we are often told during our session that the indicators of trafficking have been seen, and the health care professional did not know what it was or how to pinpoint the problem.

“I work in trauma and have a feeling I have seen a few victims but just didn’t know it,” one respondent reported.

Other attendees, whether that be in our community awareness sessions or in our professional training, have reported seeing victimization but, at the time, lacked the knowledge to identify it properly or help the suspected victim.

Is human trafficking happening here?

Yes. Without a shadow of a doubt.

Melinda Sampson is the COO of NC Stop Human Trafficking. She can be reached via email at melinda@encstophumantrafficking.org.