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US attorney spotlights rising number of human trafficking cases in Charlotte

CHARLOTTE — A disturbing national trend is hitting close to home in North Carolina.

Thursday is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, and the latest numbers rank North Carolina as ninth in the United States for the number of reported cases. It’s a trend that local U.S. Attorney Dena King wants everyone to be aware of.

Channel 9′s crime reporter Hunter Sáenz sat down with her on Thursday to talk about the critical issue plaguing our streets and neighborhoods. A special team of federal prosecutors is dealing specifically with these cases.

These cases are disturbing crimes with vulnerable victims often preyed upon and groomed. What’s happening here mirrors what’s going on across the country.

U.S. Attorney Dena King presides over the Western District.

“Unfortunately, it’s happening way too frequently,” she told Sáenz.

Human trafficking cases have nearly doubled over the past 10 years in the Charlotte region.

Nationwide, according to the Department of Justice, human trafficking cases have increased by 49% between 2011 and 2021. Over the past two years, six human trafficking cases have moved through federal court here in Charlotte.

“Some people may see six and say that’s really not a lot in the grand scheme of things,” Sáenz said.

“These are incredibly difficult cases to prosecute,” King said.

“I definitely don’t think that the number six is a true adequate representation of how frequently this crime is occurring within our district,” she added.

The cases often take years to investigate and prosecute.

For instance, take the case of Tawaan Batten and Kristi King. Both played parts in trafficking a 15-year-old girl for sex at hotels in Fort Mill and Charlotte in 2021. Dena King sat in on Batten’s trial just last month before he was found guilty.

“It angered me,” she said. “There were also times that I was just mortified that this activity was being done in our area in this day and time.”

Both Batten and King are now awaiting sentencing.

In another case, Thuy Tien Luong is currently serving 15 years in prison for human trafficking after she physically forced a woman to work as a nail technician at her Davidson nail salon.

“We have victims who are walking amongst us, living amongst us, working even amongst us in plain sight,” Dena King said.

King’s team of prosecutors have more of these cases in the pipeline and she wants everyone to know signs to look for:

  • People who appear to be submissive or fearful
  • If someone can’t speak to you alone
  • If someone’s responses seem scripted

Federal judges are sending a clear message to perpetrators. Some of these local cases have ended with 40-year prison sentences.

CLICK here if you are a victim of human trafficking or call the free hotline 1-888-373-7888 to speak with someone at the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

You can also text NHTRC at 233733 or submit a tip online.

For resources offered by the state of North Carolina, click here.

(WATCH BELOW: Nonprofit supports women who survived human trafficking, domestic violence, addiction)

Hunter Sáenz

Hunter Sáenz, wsoctv.com

Hunter is a reporter for Channel 9.

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