North Carolina ranks as a top ten state for sex trafficking in the U.S., according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Now, lawmakers are pushing a bill that would require convicted sex traffickers to register with the sex offender registry.
State Senators Thom Goolsby (R-New Hanover Co.), Buck Newton (R- Dist. 11) and Stan Bingham (R- Dist. 33) are sponsoring that bill. The Senate unanimously passed the legislation 50-0 last week, moving it forward into the House.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children stated that one in three runaways are approached by a sex trafficker within 48 hours in North Carolina.
Sarah Tellis is the executive director of The Pearl Ministry in New Bern, which helps prevent sex trafficking and offers support for victims. She said traffickers often trick victims "by giving them compliments, paying for their dinners, paying for their manicures, telling them how wonderful they are, and then as they move into becoming a boyfriend-type situation, they say, 'oh, now you have to pay me back.'"
"Sex trafficking could be prostitution, it could be strip clubs, it could be pornography," said Anna Smith, the co-founder of Restore One in Greenville.
Smith shared a story of a girl who was being sent to her landlord "every month by her parents. And that was the way they payed rent, was by exchanging sexual favors."
It's also not just women and girls who are victims; boys are sex trafficked as well, Smith said. But they are not get enough attention.
"Most of the time when we hear about boys, they're tagged on at the end of a study, or tagged on at the end of a saying or a sentence saying, ‘oh and it happens to boys,'" Smith said.
Smith said she's trying to bring more support to male victims, by fundraising to open a home for them by next January. It would be the first home of its kind in the United States, Smith said.
According to experts, North Carolina's interstates and agriculture industry are major reasons for the high sex trafficking numbers.
"[Law enforcement officers] are on it," said Sen. Goolsby. "They have detectives that are trained and go around the state and actually train others."
Sen. Goolsby is also spearheading the Safe Harbor Legislation. The bill would putsex traffickers out of business in North Carolina.