Local authorities are launching a program to fight human trafficking in the Charlotte area.
Federal Bureau of Investigation and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department investigators say hundreds of women from other countries are brought through the Queen City each week and forced into prostitution.
The women, and sometimes men and children, are lured to the United States with the promise of a better life and decent jobs.
But authorities say the women are put to work as sex slaves, often in brothels in neighborhoods along North Tryon Street, The Plaza and South Boulevard. They said criminals turn small homes into illegal houses of prostitution and hold the women against their will. In fact, two were shut down last week.
“We stand here today because slavery still exists in America,” said Vanessa Garza of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at the press conference announcing the program.
Local law enforcement agencies and other community organizations are now joining the Rescue And Restore Victims Of Human Trafficking education campaign underway in 20 cities and states nationwide. The campaign includes social service providers, child welfare groups, churches and health providers that are helping identify victims of human trafficking.
The campaign aims to raise awareness about human trafficking, identify victims and connect them to services that will help them rebuild their lives.
Linda Campbell of Catholic Social Services says she wants in on the program. She said she met two women who she believes are slaves locally.
“A woman or a man in a trafficking situation has no peace, has no hope, has only fear all day long of the next thing that’s going to happen,” she said.
Now Campbell has more tools to help victims start new lives and become legal citizens, and federal agents have more tools to track down smugglers.
“There is assistance here. You have assistance and help to come to because we do want, we will pursue, these traffickers,” said Robert Clifford with the FBI.
Authorities said often victims of human trafficking are afraid to go to authorities and are embarrassed by what happened to them. But officials say they just want to help those who have been victimized.