ROCKINGHAM — Representatives of local law enforcement and U.S. Homeland Security will join an expert from UNC-Pembroke on Thursday for a round-table discussion on human trafficking.
The program will be 10 a.m. to noon at Leath Memorial Library, 412 E Franklin St., Rockingham. It will be open to the public and will follow a question-and-answer format.
“We could possibly be a hub” for trafficking of both sex slaves and enslaved laborers, librarian Deborah Knight said Tuesday of the reason for the event. “We have three major highways that connect in Richmond County.
“Eventually, it will happen (here), and we need to be prepared” to protect local children and workers, Knight said — and to protect other victims who might be discovered on their way through the county.
Library supervisor Shannon Hearne organized the event after taking a criminal-justice course taught by Judith Paparozzi, an adjunct professor and sociologist at the University of North Carolina-Pembroke who will participate on the panel and who organized a half-day conference on the topic, to be held March 20 at UNCP. Hearne was out ill Tuesday and was unavailable for comment.
The state government’s administration website calls human trafficking “one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States” and says the “prevalence” of such activity in North Carolina results from the number of large highways that run through the state; “a large, transient military population surrounded by sexually oriented businesses; numerous rural agricultural areas with a high demand for cheap labor; and (an) increasing number of gangs …”
Organizations that work against trafficking have placed North Carolina at differing positions in the top 10 states for such activity.
Paparozzi says trafficking “is happening everywhere in North Carolina — there’s both sex and labor trafficking here.” And she emphasizes that parents and others be alert to the use of ever-present technology, such as the cellphones almost all children own and stare at all day, every day.
Those phones give traffickers “unfettered access,” she said, letting them find and reach out to children, lure them into responding and snatch them up.
“Children are the main target of traffickers,” Paparozzi said, especially those 11 to 15 because they are presumed to be sexually inexperienced and disease free.
Paparozzi has worked in criminal justice since 1972, she said, and has observed the rising use and sophistication of technology, from computer chat rooms to cell phones that track their users.
“It’s hidden in plain view,” she said of trafficking, mentioning Fayetteville as the “epicenter” of North Carolina’s trafficking trade. Charlotte also ranks high on the target list.
“It’s in every single high school,” she said. “It’s every crime combined into one.”
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]