Rebekah Davis

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — North Carolina is ranked seventh worst in the nation for human trafficking and Charlotte has the most reported cases in the state, according to Justice Ministries, an anti-human trafficking organization.

Mark Blackwell and Monique Johnson, from the Charlotte-based Justice Ministries, spoke at Winthrop University Feb. 22 about the local and global effects of human trafficking.

The International Labour Organization estimates 20 to 30 billion people are trafficked each year, but Johnson said she believes the numbers are much higher because many cases are not reported.

The group’s visit and the statistics it shared about human trafficking sparked a conversation about the issue on the Winthrop campus.

“I had never really considered it until I got older and I started learning that Charlotte can actually be a pretty dangerous place,” said Emma Connelly, a Winthrop junior from the Charlotte area. “It’s definitely horrifying and when you consider how high on the scale North Carolina is, I had no idea it was the seventh worst. That’s kind of awful considering we’re right there.”

Blackwell said Interstate 85 is part of the reason Charlotte is a major market for trafficking, because the city is centrally located between several other states, which are connected by I-85.

“You can travel I-85 all the way down to Atlanta,” said Itali Jackson, coordinator for Winthrop’s Victims Assistance office. “So 85 takes you to a lot of different states and so Charlotte is one of the ports or hubs, that is what they are called. So it’s very close, because we are right here on the line.

The International Labour Organization estimates human trafficking produces $150.2 billion in revenue each year.

Jeannie Haubert, the chair of the Winthrop Department of Sociology, Criminology and Anthropology, said the industry is so profitable, because of what is being sold.

“It becomes such a big issue because it’s a big money maker. If you’re trafficking guns or drugs, you can sell that product one time, but if you’re selling a body, you can sell that product over and over and over again. And so it winds up making people a lot of money,” said Haubert.

“I think one of the biggest misconceptions I had about it was that it was just mostly something that happens over in…China or Russia, not that this is something that happens up in Charlotte,” she said.

While North Carolina ranks as one of the worst states for human trafficking, South Carolina was recognized by Shared Hope International as the most improved state in 2018 for its efforts to prevent trafficking.

The attorney general’s office acknowledged the state’s accomplishments in 2018, but has said there is still much more to achieve in 2019.

The South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force was established in 2014 to combat the problem and determine the magnitude of human trafficking in the state.

In the group’s 2018 annual report it stated goals to protect, support and service victims and investigate and prosecute traffickers.