GREENSBORO, N.C. -- A violent crime reduction team housed on the campus of UNC Greensboro is working to help law enforcement agencies identify human trafficking cases.
“One thing that we know about human trafficking cases is they're very difficult to prosecute, they're very difficult to make for a number of reasons because they're very complex,” said Stacy Sechrist, senior research scientist with UNC Greensboro’s North Carolina Network for Safe Communities.
Sechrist and her colleague John Weil say one challenge is that there isn’t enough crime data that is explicitly identified as human trafficking.
Through their work through violent crime reduction, the two began to see how human trafficking was intersecting with other crimes.
“Step one for us is to find a law enforcement agency that may be interested in helping us help them sift through their data to really uncover what crime types even fall into what would start to build a case for human trafficking,” Sechrist said.
It may show up in a law enforcement database as a domestic violence call or a traffic stop.
Knowing which red flags and warning signs to look for could point to a deeper issue.
Sechrist and Weil received a Governor’s Crime Commission grant that allows them to follow the impact of labor and sex trafficking in seven counties in eastern North Carolina – primarily rural communities.
“What we've learned to this point is that it's challenging because resources are often more scarce in places where there's not as much around,” said John Weil, senior program specialist with UNC Greensboro’s North Carolina Network for Safe Communities.
Inadequate resources can be barriers for teams that can’t devote enough personnel away from the daily operations of a unit to focus on extensive training.
It can also be a barrier for reaching victims.
Weil and Sechrist are working with community partners and are encouraging them to use a human trafficking referral sheet that can serve as a guide to identify red flags and warning signs.
That information would then be given to a service provider qualified to intervene.
Weil and Sechrist have partnered with US Attorneys’ Offices across the state for this work and other crime-related initiatives.
Gov. Roy Cooper has declared January Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
North Carolina is believed to have one of the top 10 highest rates of human trafficking in the country.
The North Carolina Human Trafficking Commission says in 2019, there were 713 charges of human trafficking and similar crimes across the state.