Modern-day slavery trade gaining awareness at conference

Sep. 12, 2013 @ 09:02 PM

RALEIGH — About 200 law enforcement authorities and victims' advocates from across North Carolina are meeting in Raleigh to learn more about identifying and investigating cases of modern-day slavery.

The Human Trafficking Symposium that got underway Thursday is being co-hosted by the state's three top federal prosecutors. The two-day conference is intended to spur greater awareness of cases where men and women are coerced into becoming laborers or sex workers for little or no pay.

Prosecutors said trafficking victims are sometimes lured from overseas with the promise of a visa and good paying job only to find themselves forced to work in deplorable conditions. Abusers rule through fear, sometimes threatening to harm the victim or their children back home.

"Human trafficking is a national epidemic and it is also happening here, in our own communities, with many of the victims and perpetrators hiding in plain sight," said Anne M. Tompkins, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. "This symposium is a continuation of our efforts to create and maintain these strong partnerships, which can be force multipliers in our fight against this form of modern-day slavery."

Tompkins co-hosted the symposium with U.S. Attorneys Thomas Walker of the Eastern District and Ripley Rand of the Middle District.

Though human trafficking cases are stereotypically thought to occur in agricultural fields and underground brothels, prosecutors said Thursday they are seeing cases of workers being exploited in numerous types of everyday businesses— including restaurants, nail salons, landscaping and commercial cleaning crews.

Conference participants were briefed on federal laws that could be used to send perpetrators to prison and strategies for protecting those victimized and helping them testify against their abusers in court.

"This event is an excellent example of the vital collaboration needed between the law enforcement and the service provider community," Walker said. "Efforts to confront human trafficking must include an increased awareness of the indicators of this crime by those who are most likely to encounter the victims."