A bipartisan bill has been introduced in the House to directly help victims of human trafficking and to establish a pilot program to educate students and law enforcement officers on ways to recognize the signs of trafficking activity.
Human trafficking is the illegal practice of buying and selling people for the purposes of their forced labor, domestic servitude, or sexual exploitation. By some estimates, it affects more than 27 million globally, and, according to the FBI, is the third-largest criminal activity in the world.
In the United States, according to the Department of Education, cases of human trafficking have been reported in all 50 states. It has become our nation’s fastest growing criminal enterprise, generating over $32 billion in illegal revenue every year. And while women and girls make up the largest segment of those victimized by illegal trafficking, recent studies indicate that the number of boys and men involved in the sex trafficking trade often goes underreported.
Justice Ministries, a Charlotte nonprofit committed to combating sex trafficking and the sexual exploitation of women, focuses on rescue and housing. But resources are scarce. Executive Director Mark Blackwell tells the Charlotte Observer, “Money is what’s needed in this fight. We’re operating on a shoestring budget.” Last year, Justice Ministries served 150 victims of human trafficking. (Click here for a 2014 WBTV interview with Mark Blackwell and Ms. Jillian Mourning, herself a victim of trafficking.)
House Bill 910, which has 50 co-sponsors, allocates $37.5 million for shelter beds and $13.5 million for mental health services to victims of human trafficking. Representative Bill Brawley, the legislation’s lead sponsor, calculates that services and housing can run about $40,000 a year for each victim. Mental health services can add another $15,000 to that figure.
Despite the frequency with which human trafficking occurs, because it “hides in plain site,” it often goes undetected and therefore unreported. HB910 allocates $4.5 million to educate students about the trafficking phenomenon, and another $800,000 to train law enforcement officers.