Earlier this week, federal and local officials in Charlotte announced that they are significantly ramping up their efforts to fight human trafficking in the area.
According to the most recent federal figures, North Carolina is a major hotbed for human trafficking. Specifically, it has the tenth-highest rate of reported trafficking incidents in the state. A large chunk of that total comes from Charlotte. According to Jill Westmoreland Rose, the U. S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, it comes down to location, location, location. Charlotte is located at the intersection of two major interstates, I-85 and I-77. Additionally, Charlotte Douglas International Airport is the nation’s eighth-busiest airport, and a major hub for air traffic moving along the eastern half of the country.
Since 2012, the U. S. Attorney’s office has partnered with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Charlotte office, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, and several other agencies in the Charlotte Metropolitan Human Trafficking Task Force. On Monday, the task force held its first-ever training session for local hotel workers to help them spot signs of human trafficking. Federal and local officials consider hotel workers to be on the front lines of the effort to stop this barbaric practice.
The extent of the human trafficking problem in this area came into sharp focus this past October, when the FBI began investigating a pattern of human trafficking at a Red Roof Inn located just minutes from the airport. According to a police affidavit, the hotel had been a hub for human trafficking as early as 2012, and the pimps bribed hotel staff to keep quiet. Red Roof has since severed ties with the hotel.
Rose said that this week is more than appropriate to train hotel workers on how to spot human trafficking. There a number of major sporting events scheduled for the next few months–the Carolina Panthers’ playoff run this month, and the ACC Tournament in March, among others. Additionally, convention season is fast approaching, and Rose and other officials want hospitality workers to be “educated on what to look for.”
Among the red flags highlighted at the meeting were heavy foot traffic around an apartment, home, or hotel, people staying for short periods of time, and people who try to avoid eye contact. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center has a list of other red flags as well; read them here.
Shannon Lane, the director of human resources at Sree Hotels, was on hand for the meeting. She is the mother of three teenagers, and was stunned to hear how rampant human trafficking is in the Charlotte area. Lane’s company owns nine hotels in and around Charlotte, and she is determined to help the victims get out and rebuild their lives.
If you are in a human trafficking situation or you believe there’s one going on, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 888-373-7888. You can also submit an online tip here.