While sex trafficking is more widely reported in the state of North Carolina, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation says labor trafficking may be just as prevalent.
“It is happening everywhere in the state of North Carolina,” said special agent Carl Wall with the SBI. “Every county and every city. If people think it is not there, they just need to start looking.”
Wall said signs of labor trafficking are all over the place.
“Everyday people in their all walks of life will come across these individuals, whether they are at a convenient store and shopping mall,” Wall said. “A lot of these individuals who are trafficked may not have their own form of transportation, so the farmer or lead worker may take these individuals to say a local Walmart all in one van only on one day.”
Wall said the booming agriculture industry in our state makes labor trafficking all the more prevalent.
“North Carolina adds a different aspect to it because of our farming communities and our rural agriculture and having the manpower and labor to work those farms,” Wall said.
Wall said while it is better financially for farmers to hire low-wage workers, farmers are usually not the ones responsible for trafficking.
“They hire migrants and immigrants that come over and a lot of times those individuals are being trafficked through their sponsor,” Wall said. “They are sponsored to come here and enticed to come here for reasons of money or eventual freedom, and they are housed and paid and fed by the individuals controlling them.”
Wall said since many workers are illegal immigrants, they do not report being trafficked for fear of deportation.
Traffickers withhold peoples’ green cards, documentation or visas in order to control them.
Agriculture is not the only industry we see this in.
“You will see it a lot in restaurants, which was a surprise to us, a large buffet type restaurant, a lot of these individuals work 10-, 12-, 16-hour days for minimum wage,” Wall said.
Restaurants and massage parlors are common for trafficking.
“We do our proactive investigations in which we will go out and try to identify these locations,” Wall said. “It happens to every gender, age and race. You have children, teenagers, up until mid-forties. It can be an Asian community to both African American and Caucasian.”
Wall said the SBI is working to create their own full-time unit to combat both labor and sex trafficking.
They hope to place eight full-time agents in their eighth districts across the state to help local law enforcement.
“Most all local law enforcement agencies, sheriffs, chiefs, the police departments, they don’t have the resources to put somebody working full-time human trafficking” Wall said. “You will find your detective working a larceny or homicide. He has been doubly tasked if they get a tip to work one of these types of investigations. That is what we are hoping for this legislative session, is to get eight full-time agents so that we can respond. So when your local small department doesn’t have that investigator that has the knowledge or time to work that tip, we can come in and assist them.”
Pitt County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Chauncey Congleton said they need more resources to address the problem.
“That would be great,” Congleton said. “It is a very time-consuming investigation. Dealing with crimes of human trafficking can promote federal charges. If that trafficker brings those victims from Virginia to North Carolina, they cross state lines. That is a federal crime, but it takes time, it takes manpower and it takes a lot of man-hours. We collaborate with other counties, other states, even the FBI and SBI.”
Wall said the most important thing the public can do is get involved.
“If they think someone is being trafficked, they think someone is being mistreated, forced or coerced into doing something, if they could just give us a call, the sheriff’s office or local police department, that’s what it’s going to take,” Wall said.