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Human trafficking: ‘It could be happening in our backyard’

BURLINGTON, N.C. -- For a little over a year now, the Burlington Police Department has had an officer working solely on investigating potential human trafficking cases. Detective Justin Parks says human trafficking could mean forced labor or forced sex on a victim.

Over the last year, every patrol officer on the force has had special training to better recognize the signs of human trafficking. Officers are now sending tips to Parks to investigate. Parks says lately he has been investigating several local businesses and chains for reports of potential trafficking. He says in many of these cases, the victim is an undocumented immigrant.

"They'll keep someone in a position doing something they don't want to do a lot of time they'll keep them in a labor position without paying them and a lot of times threaten them with deportation," Parks said.

He also said awareness around human trafficking is increasing in the general public, so the department has gotten more tips from social media and from anonymous sources.

"We've definitely gotten more calls on human trafficking and I think part of that is because the education level on human trafficking has gone up again," he said.

Parks says sex trafficking often appears like domestic violence, except the victim often has poor hygiene, is underfed and lacks proper clothing. In cases of labor trafficking, Parks says people can look out for employees who appear to work almost every shift six to seven days a week.

"You never know, all we ask is that people keep their eyes open absolutely, it could be happening in our backyard," he said.