CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The U.S. attorney's office says underage girls are victims of sex trafficking in Charlotte.
Eyewitness News anchor Natalie Pasquarella found out the federal office is working with authorities on every level to put a stop to it, by forming a new taskforce.
Pasquarella also went along with a local nonprofit that helps victims into one part of Charlotte, after the group received tips of sex trafficking happening there.
Ish Payne is the director of Compassion to Act, a nonprofit that helps human trafficking victims. Payne said the area near Interstate 85 and Sugar Creek Road, where there is a cluster of hotels, is an area of concern for him.
"You knew things were going on, but its seeing it actually happen," said Payne.
Payne said he has received tips that underage girls are being sold for sex in the area.
"You know they're there. Connecting with them is another thing," said Payne.
Payne often drives the streets to reach out to possible victims. He typically hands out information about his group, and asks women if they know of anyone that needs help.
Eyewitness News went along with Payne, and saw some girls who looked under the age of 18 walking to and from hotels and also approaching and leaving cars.
Not far from that area, along I-85, sits a new billboard urging people to report child prostitution.
U.S. Attorney Anne Thompkins said the problem is very real.
"Sex trafficking is happening in this community," said Thompkins.
She said major interstates, like I-85, make Charlotte a prime spot.
"We're an urban area, which is going to bring the sex trade. We have a grid of highways that go through Charlotte, go through this area," added Thompkins.
Thompkins said there are trafficking cases under investigation in Charlotte that involve children ages 15-18. Many of those cases began online, and can involve adult websites advertising girls.
"The Internet gives a perpetrator a sense of anonymity and a perceived safety," warned Thompkins.
She said pimps target runaways and immigrants, typically girls who struggle financially.
Thompkins also said men often threaten young immigrants with deportation.
Brock Nicholson, with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also works with Thompkins to target sex trafficking.
"However you came here, you have a right not to be exploited. You have a right not to be a slave," said Nicholson.
Thompkins and Nicholson are both part of a new human trafficking taskforce in Charlotte. The taskforce is made up of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Attorney's office, the District Attorney's office and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Police Department.
"What we need is, we need passion, we need people, we need interest, and that's what we have," said Thompkins.
The first training event for members of the taskforce will take place on August 21, at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church. The training will include medical and social workers, lawmakers, law enforcement, and community advocates.
For more information on human trafficking, click here.
To find out more about human trafficking in North Carolina, click here.