Jessica is part of The Salvation Army of Wake County’s Project FIGHT (Freeing Individuals Gripped by Human Trafficking). As the Anti-Human Trafficking Training and Education Manager, Jessica divides her time primarily between managing her caseload and educating the community. Case management involves dealing with victims of different ages, races, and genders using a trauma-informed approach to provide victims with much needed resources. Resources often include food, clothing, shelter, transportation, assistance with medical and legal appointments and coordination with local, state, and federal law enforcement officers. Community education involves training law enforcement officials, government organizations, and various other civic-based organizations and groups on how to interact with and recognize victims of human trafficking.
Scope of the Problem:
Project FIGHT was originally funded as a two-year program. Current funding is provided solely by donations and fundraisers while Project FIGHT applies for additional support from the Governor’s Crime Commission, as well as federal funding from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Victim’s Crimes. Project FIGHT has provided services to over 100 victims in the last two and a half years. According to the Polaris Project, a national organization dedicated to combatting human trafficking, North Carolina ranks ninth in the nation for human trafficking. According to Jessica, North Carolina’s high ranking is due to its extensive network of highways, numerous military bases, and the availability of foreign labor.
Effectiveness of Legal Remedies:
According to Jessica, the anti-trafficking laws in North Carolina are relatively comprehensive, and she noted that improvements such as the Safe Harbor Act, passed in 2013, have significantly helped victims by providing them with additional legal remedies. For example, the Safe Harbor Act protects minors from being arrested and charged with prostitution and automatically deems them to be victims of human trafficking. The Safe Harbor Act also allows minor victims convicted of prostitution prior to the passage of the Safe Harbor Act to file a motion to vacate and expunge their records. There is also some ability for adult victims to vacate and expunge convictions. Jessica also noted that the passing of the Safe Harbor Act has encouraged law enforcement officers who might normally charge a victim with prostitution to consider alternative solutions. Jessica has noticed that the percentage of victim referrals from law enforcement officers has dramatically increased, from around ten to over forty percent over the course of Project FIGHT. However, Jessica stressed that North Carolina’s laws can still be improved. She believes that an increased focus on charging the buyers of prostitution as opposed to the victims will further combat the problem. She would also like to see the Safe Harbor Act extended to cover adult victims.
Obstacles to Combatting Human Trafficking:
A lack of awareness and misconceptions about the nature of the problem remain obstacles to combatting human trafficking. Jessica noted that many people lack a full understanding of human trafficking and are surprised to find that it exists in their own backyard. In addition, many people have misconceptions about what a “typical” victim looks like, assuming that all victims generally are foreign born. These common misconceptions often result in missed opportunities to identify and provide assistance to victims. Numerous victims have reported that they have had extensive interactions with individuals such as law enforcement officers, medical professionals, and attorneys before anyone identifies them as victims or offers them help. Even worse, many victims themselves lack a full understanding of the concept of human trafficking, and thus may fail to identify themselves as victims. In addition, because they may be breaking the law, victims may sometimes feel intimidated by law enforcement officers, as well as their captors who threaten to report their illegal activity, and fail to seek assistance.
Jessica stressed the need for increased education for law enforcement officers, medical professionals, and attorneys on how to identify human trafficking, and how to develop and maintain relationships with victims. In North Carolina, the Fayetteville Police Department has made strides by hiring one prostitution diversion officer who focuses on building relationships with the victims and providing a quarterly outreach program. The Durham Police Department is currently looking into adopting a similar model, and Jessica hopes that these programs will be implemented throughout the state.
Areas Needing Improvement:
Jessica stressed that one major area needing improvement is the lack of resources available to assist victims, specifically with regard to housing and case management. In addition, too few programs are in place that will assist male and transgender victims, and very few shelters will take in these victims.
Interview with Jessica, Anti-Human Trafficking Training and Education Manager, The Salvation Army of Wake County (July 15, 2014).
For more information on Project FIGHT please contact The Salvation Army of Wake County at Projectfight@wakearmy.org or 919-834-6733, extension 137.
The Salvation Army of Wake County’s Project FIGHT: www.projectfightnc.org
Polaris Project (nationwide): www.polarisproject.org
North Carolina Coalition Against Human Trafficking (NCCAHT): http://www.nccasa.net/nccaht
30th Judicial District DV & SA Alliance, Inc.: www.30thalliance.org
Legal Services of Southern Piedmont: www.lssp.org
United Family Services: http://unitedfamilyservices.org
World Relief: http://worldrelief.org/northcarolina
On Eagle’s Wings Ministry: http://www.oneagleswingsministries.org
Centre of Redemption: http://www.centreofredemption.com
Anchor House: http://restoreonelife.wordpress.com/about