A Pitt County organization will combat human trafficking in North Carolina through community education during its Human Trafficking 101 event today in the Sheppard Memorial Library at 6 p.m.
North Carolina Stop Human Trafficking Now is a non-profit organization that aims to educate community members and professionals about the signs and dangers of human trafficking, according to Community Outreach Coordinator Melinda Sampson.
Sampson said most of the suspicious activity reported to the national human trafficking hotline comes from concerned citizens, so the primary goal of Human Trafficking 101 is community education.
“Human trafficking victims rarely self-identify as victims, and rarely reach out for help so it is important that communities know what human trafficking is, what the indicators are, and report their suspicions to the national human trafficking hotline,” Sampson added.
Along with education, Sampson said the organization also provides awareness initiatives, like facts and case stories on social media.
She said labor trafficking will be covered along with sex trafficking, because it is prevelant in the Eastern agricultural side of North Carolina. Sampson added that a lot of labor trafficking goes unreported because it is hard to investigate something that isn’t normally considered criminal work.
“We try to get everyone to understand that human trafficking is infact an issue in North Carolina,” Sampson said. “A lot of people think it’s only a problem in other countries but the truth is, it’s an issue not only in the United States but also in this state.”
Case Manager for Project Fight in Greenville, a subdivision of The Salvation Army that provides help to victims of human trafficking, Juliana Mariani, said she has held her current position for two years.
Mariani said her job is to meet with a victim personally, help them get to safety and adjust them back into a life away from human trafficking. Some of her duties include finding the victim shelter, helping them with documentation and encouraging them to find jobs or go back to school, according to Mariani.
“The first thing we do is give them food and shelter,” Mariani said. “They can’t give you the information you need to help them unless they are safe and have their basic needs.”
Mariani normally receives about three cases a month and said the cases used to mostly involve hispanic victims. However, Mariani said victims are more diverse now and isn’t only prevalent in hispanic communities.
Both sex trafficking and labor trafficking are prevelant in North Carolin, according to Mariani. However, men are more likely to be victims of labor trafficking and females are more likely to be victims of sex trafficking. Mariani added that most calls she receives are from police officers and teachers.
She said one of the most challenging parts of her job is helping the victim get their documentation back.
“Usually what a trafficker does is take away their papers. For example, they’ll take away their social security, birth certificate, all of their ID’s that they have, and if the lady has a son or daughter they take away their papers too,” Mariani said.
Mariani said she stays positive and doesn’t let the emotional side of her job get in the way of her helping victims.
“When I’m at work I feel like God put me here for a reason and I have to do my best everyday to help these young ladies and young men,” Mariani said. “I have been following this same young lady, she went from foster care into human trafficking and then to a shelter. She just got her own place and now is going back to school. It makes me feel good to be apart of that.”