10/23/11 — Region looking to save exploited children

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Region looking to save exploited children

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 23, 2011 1:50 AM

The Board of Health is being encouraged to consider establishing a task force to train and educate the community on the perils of human trafficking.

Pam Strickland, founder of Stop Human Trafficking Now, said the problem is a form of "modern-day slavery," where adults but particularly youths are being exploited for commercial sex or labor.

Mrs. Strickland spoke at a recent meeting of the Board of Health.

Most vulnerable targets, she explained, are young people with histories of abuse, on the streets as homeless or runaways, or in the foster care system.

"How long do you think it takes before they are approached by a pimp?" she asked the board, before answering her own question. "Within about 48 hours."

The young population is particularly susceptible, she said, and easily victimized -- by parents or family members, pimps, boyfriends, gangs or "friends" met online. The motivation for predators varies, from drugs to the need for money.

But the notion of child prostitution, she explained, is a misnomer.

"There's no such thing as child prostitution -- there are prostituted children but a child does not make the decision to go into prostitution," she said.

According to some, Ms. Strickland said, North Carolina is in the top 10 for human trafficking, asking the board why that might be.

"Well, apparently there's a big demand," Health Director James Roosen said.

Ms. Strickland suggested several reasons the state, and especially the eastern segment, is a draw -- the closeness of I-95, the military presence, gangs, agriculture industry and the large immigrant population.

Regardless of how one is introduced to trafficking, she said, once in, it is a difficult thing to leave behind.

"They're not going to tell their teachers, their caregivers, because they are told not to tell anyone," she said. "Statistics show that the child will see seven social service providers before it's found that they're the victim because the kids are lying about it."

Efforts are being made around the state to tackle the growing problem, she said. There is already a statewide task force with representatives from such agencies as law enforcement and social services, with efforts being made to fund research into the problem.

"We don't know how many victims, how many are involved in Wayne County," she said. "That's another reason to fund research for this."

She suggested the board consider supporting the need for a local task force to address the issue.

It could be made up of representatives from the Health Department, the military, law enforcement, Department of Social Services, to name a few, with an emphasis on educating the community, particularly parents and children.

"I think more in-depth training is needed, specifically on how to recognize (human trafficking)," she said. "Our group would be glad to do it or I can recommend other groups.

"I think we need to be educating the public about those things -- the gangs, boyfriends, predators. It's a whole lot less expensive to prevent a problem than to pay for it later."