RALEIGH, N.C. – A group of women, who together are working to help women and kids in their community, gathered to learn about a hidden problem affecting growing numbers of people in Wake County.
The Women’s Giving Network of Wake County held its annual issues forum April 7 to educate current and prospective members about human trafficking.
The session, “Sex Crimes in Our Community,” was led by Donna Bickford, the executive director of the Women’s Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, and Lt. Chris Carrigan of the Raleigh Police Department.
The Women’s Giving Network, a program of the North Carolina Community Foundation, was created four years ago and since then has awarded a total of $424,000 in grants to local nonprofits.
The group, which has 154 members, awarded $130,000 in grants last year, and this fall aims to increase that to about $150,000, says Liza Roberts, chair of the network.
“Our goal is to meet the needs of women and children in Wake County,” she says. “With these forums, we get to know better some of the issues women and children in our community are grappling with.”
While human trafficking typically is veiled in secrecy, the problem is growing, with some 12.3 million adults and kids worldwide forced or coerced into commercial sex, involuntary servitude or slavery each year, says Bickford.
Most of those are women, and overall about 15,000 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year, with a quarter ending up in the Southeast, she says.
And an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 children in the U.S. are at risk each year of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
Each trafficking victims earns an estimated $75,000 to $250,000 a year for his or her handler, making the crime a lucrative business that generates an estimated $32 billion in total profit each year.
North Carolina is particularly vulnerable to traffickers because of interstate travel arteries like I-95 and I-40, its ports, its agricultural and meat-processing industries and its tourist trade.
And while there may be many factors making people vulnerable to traffickers, including poverty, a lack of jobs, and civil unrest and corruption in their home countries, those are not the primary factors fueling the trade, says Bickford.
“There is one cause of trafficking,” she says. “Demand for the bodies of women.”
Trafficking typically is run through underground networks out of the public view, says Carrigan, which can make unearthing the problem difficult for law enforcement.
And because of threats, physical restraint, fear or shame, victims rarely seek help.
“It’s very hard to start a case,” he says. “It’s all about getting the victims to come forward and say what’s going on.”
By raising awareness of these issues, as happened at the Women’s Giving Network forum, Bickford and Carrigan hope to gain the community’s participation in putting an end to one of the fastest-growing crimes.
And awareness of these and other issues is important for members of the Women’s Giving Network as they prepare to issue a request-for-proposals for the next round of grantmaking, which will culminate in the fall.
“This is a service for our membership,” says Roberts of the issues forums. “So we can make educated decisions.”