From an Oct. 10 editorial in the (Raleigh) News & Observer:
Just imagine, as horrible as the thoughts may be, that you are a terrified 13-year-old girl, perhaps a runaway from a rough home environment, and you’ve been taken in by an older man who promises to treat you better. When the sexual activity begins, you don’t really understand it. But after a while, what you do understand is the threats that have now become part of your daily life: Do what I say or I will beat you. Do what this man visiting tells you to do. Go with this other girl to a strange house with strange men.
The nightmare is more common than we think, one reason that the N.C. General Assembly passed a law that toughens the penalties for sex traffickers and views the young people in their control as victims instead of treating them as prostitutes.
The top federal prosecutor in North Carolina’s Western District, Anne Tompkins, didn’t hold back in an interview with The News & Observer’s Anne Blythe. “Human trafficking,” she said, “is a national epidemic, and it is also happening here, in our communities, with many of the victims and perpetrators hiding in plain sight.”
Indeed, a case cited by prosecutors involved a man in his mid-30s, appearing outwardly fairly typical. But he was anything but, exploiting young girls. Now he faces multiple counts of sex crime charges.
A problem in working these cases was that youngsters who wind up in these situations are often running away from something at home, perhaps even tensions that aren’t that extraordinary. So they aren’t inclined to speak out much. And the traffickers get away with their business, at least for a while, because they don’t appear to be that different from anyone else.
What can people do? They can keep an eye out for suspicious situations, older men hanging around with younger girls. They can watch to see whether kids are hanging around on their own or not going to school. They can pay attention to comings and goings and the hours they see the young people around. They cannot hesitate to alert authorities.
Young people are vulnerable because their emotions can grow raw and lead them to be drawn to situations and people they’d be better off without.
That the law is now firmly on their side is a tremendous development. Now such youngsters need not fear going from a prison of one kind to another, and they should not.
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