The Pitt County Sheriff's Office will serve as the lead agency for a task force investigating human trafficking if the county's application for a federal grant is approved.
Grants Administrator Melissia Larson says the sheriff's department is seeking more than $488,000 over a three-year period to fund an endeavor she says will address an emerging issue nationwide.
The LE Task Force will be a collaborative effort between local law enforcement, the High Point Police Department, the Middle District United States Attorney's Office, the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault and RIPPLE, a current statewide task force.
Grant funding will provide for an investigator for the Pitt County Sheriff's Office and High Point Police and pay for those individuals to train other law enforcement agencies on how to recognize trafficking and how to prevent it.
"Training will be key in this grant because this is an issue that is so difficult to define and identify how it might be occurring in our community," Larson said. "Law enforcement officials have to be able to identify it if they are going to stop it."
No date has been given for a decision about the funding.
Larson describes human trafficking as an offense in which individuals are held against their wishes and forced to perform a service without compensation.
It is not clear if Pitt County is home to any type of trafficking, she said.
She says the state is a fertile ground for the crime, however, because it is considered a destination for immigration and it has agricultural roots that utilize migrant workers. Trafficking is also a key element in the sex trade, she said.
"With trafficking, people basically become a slave," Larson said. "We need to be able to think outside of the box to recognize it. We may have a situation that we think is just prostitution or someone working on a farm here, but we need to be aware that there could be something much more harmful like forced servitude going on."
Most victims are transient, have language barriers and do not understand they are being victimized, Larson said. Others are too embarrassed to speak out.
She said the dynamics of the crime are similar to domestic violence in that victims feel isolated, fearful and controlled.
For more information on this subject, visit the USA Human Trafficking Report
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