Opioid epidemic fuels human trafficking in Cape Fear region

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. It’s a problem that’s law enforcement says is getting worse.

Human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry.

A Safe Place, which provides shelter for human trafficking victims, says 142 women reported there within the past year.

Director Dawn Ferrer says it is important to pay attention to the warning signs.

She says their average age seeking help is typically 29. However, they’ve worked with girls as young as 14.

Ferrer says people who dress provocatively, appear to have very few possessions, are standoffish, and fail to make eye contact are just a few of the many signs to be mindful of.

She says human trafficking can happen to anyone.

“People need to understand that these women that we work with didn’t choose this,” Ferrer said. “We hear that a lot. That they chose to do this. It’s their life circumstances, it’s their trauma. It’s everything that they’ve been through that has lead them to believe they didn’t have a choice.”

Wilmington Police Department Public Information Officer Linda Thompson says it’s crucial to pay attention and report any peculiar signs.

“People may discount it and say, ‘Oh, that’s just someone on drugs, or that’s someone who’s homeless,’ but people really need to open their eyes and see this is real,” Thompson said. “It’s happening to young people. They’re being lured through social media, and other means and it’s dangerous.”

“When you see individuals who may be under the influence of drugs, up and down certain quarters in motels, out in the businesses trying to sell things that look like it may be illegal,” Thompson said. “Magazine subscriptions where the pages are kind of torn and shattered just weird behaviors.”

WPD officers have taken special training.

“What to look for with human trafficking, some indicators, some key behaviors, where to look, things like that,” Thompson said. “They’ve been trained and have received a lot of training in that area, and that really helps when our investigators began to conduct their investigations.”

Ferrer says she believes the newest trend has a lot to do with the opioid epidemic.

Categories: Local, New Hanover

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