Stranger Danger: The Human Trafficking Threat in North Carolina and Beyond

When we were kids, many of us were taught to see strangers as potentially dangerous. This was especially true for unknown adults talking to children. But does stranger danger end when you are kids, or is it just beginning? In this article, we talk to Wallace Police Chief, James Crayton, Cry Freedom Missions CEO, Beverly Weeks, and COO, Jonathan Chavous, to learn about claims that human trafficking is increasing in Duplin County, how to recognize it, and how to act against it.

On December 16, 2021, a story circulated Facebook claimed that a woman was targeted at the Walmart in Wallace for an attempted abduction by human traffickers. Though the woman never filed a police report on the incident, it started conversations of concern that there may be a rise in human trafficking in Duplin County. Beverly Weeks, CEO of Cry Freedom Missions, stated that “most cases go unreported because the victims don’t even realize they are victims.” Furthermore, she said, “I would argue that poverty, drugs, pornography, social media, Covid leaving kids unsupervised and releasing inmates into the population, our close proximity to military bases, major highways, and coastal waterways have all increased cases of human trafficking in North Carolina—and in this area.”

What is Human Trafficking?

US law defines trafficking as when a person 18 or older is enticed to have sex for money because of force, fraud, or coercion. For persons below the age of 18, any act where the person is induced to perform sexually or in other forms of forced labor including involuntary service, peonage, debt bondage, and slavery is considered human trafficking.

Human traffickers make an estimated $150 billion in profits from the manipulation and bondage of others. In the United States, North Carolina ranks consistently in the top 10 for states with high trafficking cases. Though the government has increased its efforts to fight this problem, real change ultimately lies with the public becoming aware of their tactics and proactively acting. 

The Stranger You Know

According to Cry Freedom Missions, a ministry helping trafficking victims walk out healing and restoration in our area, most stranger danger starts in your home on your devices. Both male and female traffickers stalk their prey online through social media and gaming systems. They look for insecurity and weakness posted freely online, and they build a profile of how to get to you. They reach out as a friend request or message from a stranger complimenting you on your beauty or niceness. They entice you with promises of love, acceptance, and opportunity better than what you currently live in. They build trust with you and convince you that they want the best for you. Victims can be any age or gender, but the targeted age for most human traffickers now is 11-14 years old.

Force, Fraud, or Coercion

Human trafficking happens by one of three ways: force, fraud, or coercion. Force is when someone is abducted physically such as kidnapping, rape, or following someone in their vehicle. Force is the one you hear about the most, but it actually happens the least. That is because most traffickers prefer to work from the shadows where they are less likely to be seen or caught.  

Most trafficking cases come in the form of fraud or coercion.

Fraud is when a lie is used to convince someone that they must give themselves willingly to avoid some other greater trouble. This tactic is often used on immigrants who are unaware of our legal system. For example, a trafficker can claim to be able to save the person from deportation in exchange for their service in free labor or the sex trade.

Coercion is when the person is threatened harm if they do not perform the service. The threat can be mental harm such as the threat of exposing nude images of them to friends and family. It can also be physical harm such as getting them hooked on drugs and threatening to remove the drugs if they don’t perform the service. Because of this method of control, it has been suggested that many of the people facing criminal charges in court right now may actually be victims of human trafficking.

Take Action

If you are a parent, check your child’s devices, online activity, and gaming systems. Know the strangers they are welcoming into your home and what they are saying to them. Conversations online are everywhere from comments on YouTube to forums buried inside apps like Roblox. Shine a light on every area of communication in your household, and verify they are who they say they are. Screen conversations and get to know the online strangers in your home; it is important to know what is influencing your children.

Not everyone online is a predator, but you need to be proactively screening them as if they were. Don’t be public with your whereabouts or personal details, and don’t publish all your feelings where everyone can see them. Set boundaries for the interactions you have online. Some people delete new friend requests and only talk online to people they know in real life. Others screen new connections through mutual friends and video chat to confirm they are who they say they are. Wallace Police Chief James Crayton suggests that you also follow local law enforcement on social media. Many scams are reported through social media to help keep the public aware, cautious, and protected.  

Safety in Public

When you are in a public place, it is still possible to be a victim of human trafficking by force. The best way to combat this tactic is to be vigilantly aware of your surroundings. Parents, it is a good idea to always check on where your kids are and who they are with.

When you are in public, you are most vulnerable when you are in transition from a building to a car or by yourself in a public place. During these moments, it is especially important to think defensively and not be distracted by devices and other things. Take note if someone is loitering near your vehicle, making you feel threatened, or looking suspicious in some other way. Avoid dark, lonely alleys and taking the attacker home with you when you feel you are being chased. Know your surroundings well enough that you always have an escape plan if something goes wrong. Wallace Police Chief James Crayton says that if you feel like you are being watched or followed, go to the police or sheriff’s department–don’t go home.

How To Help

If you see something that looks suspicious, report it to the local law enforcement. Your action can help stop the effectiveness of trafficking circles in your area. If you or someone you know is being trafficked and needs help to get out, connect with Cry Freedom Missions at 919-988-9262.