The North Carolina General Assembly is taking a strong stance against human trafficking this session, with proposed legislation that seeks to raise awareness of this tragic problem and to mitigate its effects. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, NC ranks in the top 10 nationally in reported cases with almost 2,700 victims in North Carolina identified in the last 10 years. Although there is much work to do, two proposed bills in the General Assembly would make strides toward the ultimate goal of putting an end to this nefarious practice. Senate Bill 548—Strengthen Human Trafficking Laws/Studies SB 548 would increase the punishment for trafficking activities and puts in place preventative measures aimed at businesses frequently used by traffickers.
1. The bill raises human trafficking charges from a Class F felony to a Class C felony if the victim is an adult. This would increase the average prison sentence from 13 months to 58 months. It would toughen charges for human trafficking a minor from a class C felony to a B1 felony, increasing the average prison sentence from 58 months to 192 months.
2. It would establish “standards for establishments that provide massage and bodywork therapy services” and would require those who own or operate these businesses to obtain a license. Human traffickers frequently use massage businesses as a front for illicit sex trafficking. While massage therapists are required to hold a license to practice, the businesses that employ them are currently not regulated. The bill also states, “No owner shall engage in or permit any person or persons to engage in sexual activity in the owner’s massage and bodywork therapy establishment.”
3. The bill would require “adult establishments,” such as adult bookstores or strip clubs, to “prominently display” a public awareness sign that contains the National Human Trafficking Resource hotline information.
House Bill 910—Human Trafficking: Resistance and Rescue HB 910 seeks to educate students about the dangers and signs of human trafficking, train law enforcement to identify traffickers, and would allocate funds to help victims of trafficking that have been rescued.
1. The bill instructs the State Board of Education to establish a pilot program for students in sixth, eighth, and tenth grades that would include information about the warning signs of human trafficking, terms used by traffickers, actions or behaviors that indicate a trafficker’s malicious intent, websites that are popular with traffickers, and resources available for counseling and advocacy.
2. SB 910 would establish a pilot program to train law enforcement to identify businesses that are fronts for human trafficking and common signs that a person is being trafficked.
3. The bill appropriates $37.5 million to provide beds in shelters for human trafficking victims and $13.5 million for mental health services for human trafficking victims. The above pilot programs would begin in New Hanover, Wake and Mecklenburg Counties.
Human trafficking, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, is “a modern-day form of slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against his or her will. “