This is why the Duke Energy Center is lit up dark blue today

The Duke Energy Center tower will be lit up dark blue today, but not because of the upcoming Panthers playoff game. Well, not really.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month and today is Human Trafficking Awareness Day. The tower will be dark blue in recognition of the day.

[Related: Meet the man behind the Duke Energy Center lights.]

Krystin Ryan, who does communications and marketing for Lily Pad Haven, a nonprofit that provides housing for survivors of human trafficking, told me that it’s especially important to be aware of human trafficking as Charlotte gets ready to host playoff games and with the Super Bowl a month away.

Big events — conventions, sporting events, the DNC in 2012 — usually bring a large number of trafficking victims to the area, to hotels and pop-up house parties, according to Ryan.

In the spirit of Human Trafficking Awareness Month, here are some things you may not know about it.

What it is: Essentially modern-day slavery. The trade of humans for sexual exploitation or forced labor.

Charlotte is a hotspot for it: North Carolina is a top 10 state for Human Trafficking, and Charlotte is especially well suited for it because of its proximity to interstates, the ocean and large sporting events.

It’s not just women coming from other countries: That was always my assumption. Not true. Most that come to Lily Pad Haven are from the U.S., and some are even from Charlotte. Victims come from all areas and backgrounds, Ryan said, but share one characteristic: Vulnerability.

What to look for, according to Ryan:

– Multiple cell phones, or not having their own cell phone

– No ID

– Live and work in the same place

– Not allowed to keep the money they earn

– Hide money from trafficker/employer

– No freedom of movement

– Branding — a tattoo of a trafficker’s name or symbol

– Use of lingo or slang relating to an individual’s involvement in prostitution

– Referring to boyfriend as “daddy”

– Speaks of “the life”

– Dressed in inappropriate clothing

– Discrepancies in behavior and reported age

– Impaired judgement

– Depersonalization and/or emotional exhaustion

– Unfamiliar with surroundings, or claims to be “just visiting”

– Inconsistencies in their story

– Loss of sense of time

– Hyper vigilance or paranoid behavior

– Threaten with harm if they leave their job

– Foreign-born who worry about being deported due to threats

What to do if you see signs, or believe you’re a victim: Call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888, ICE-Homeland Security Investigations at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2423) or the Charlotte Office of the FBI at 704-672-6100.

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How to help: Lily Pad Haven and other groups that help the victims of human trafficking (you can find a list here) are always in need of volunteers and donations. Reach out to an organization and see how you can help.

Photo: Corey Inscoe