• Hayoung (Talia) Cho & Kilin Tang

Human Trafficking During a Pandemic




*Warning: This article may contain information that may be sensitive for some viewers. 

*A list of local, state, and national hotlines intended to provide you with the resources and support to combat domestic violence can be found at the bottom of this blog post.


“To the outside world, she said she was a PTA mom who ran a regular business, but at night, behind closed doors, she earned $200 to $400 per man.” In a WCNC article, two women in North Carolina share their story of trafficking. But their experiences did not result from the stereotypical pimps. 

Did you know that North Carolina is in the top ten in the nation for human trafficking? According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 78 additional sex trafficking cases are reported annually in North Carolina—and Charlotte is in the lead. At least five hundred new ads are posted soliciting sex in Charlotte every single day, and the problem isn’t going away anytime soon. In 2019, the reported number of human trafficking cases jumped by 38% nationwide, causing 50 Homeland Security agents to be specially assigned to combat human trafficking in the Carolinas alone. Overall, the National Human Trafficking Hotline estimates that 40.3 million victims are exploited every year around the world. 

The issue of human trafficking was selected as a special short series given the unique role it plays during the pandemic. With the Greater Charlotte Area already having high incident rates even before COVID-19, we deemed it necessary for us to dedicate this blog post to introduce you to the human trafficking crisis, define the relationships between the pandemic and trafficking, and present the various local and nationwide hotlines for reference. We hope that our blogs will inform the communities in the Greater Charlotte Area, among many others, about the pressing situation to educate, inform, and prevent human trafficking moving forward.

July 30: World Day Against Trafficking in Persons

Today, July 30th, is the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. Proclaimed on December 18th, 2013 by the United Nations General Assembly, the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons was dedicated to raise awareness of the global issue and promote the protection of all human rights. The most prominent symbol features a Blue Heart, which serves a dual purpose: it represents the sadness of those who are trafficked, while simultaneously reminding us of the  cold-heartedness of the act of buying and selling human beings for profit.

What is Human Trafficking?

The National Human Trafficking Hotline defines human trafficking as a “form of modern-day slavery” where “force, fraud or coercion to control another person for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or soliciting labor or services against his/her will.” However, if the victim is under 18 years of age, “force, fraud, or coercion” is not needed for it to be considered sex trafficking.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the human trafficking is motivated by some of the following reasons:

  • Sexual exploitation 

  • To facilitate forced labor 

  • Selling of children

At extreme cases:

  • Removal and selling of organs

  • The need of soldiers and often replaced with children

  • Forced marriage

  • Resulting from forced begging

What does Human Trafficking Look Like?

It’s worth noting that not all cases are result from the stereotypical “pimps” we normally associate to with sex-trafficking. 

  • Pimps recruit sex workers, especially young adolescent women who have escaped physical or emotional abuse, and lure them into a forced relationship using methods to “break” the victim: rape, death threats, beating, usage of drugs, and false imprisonment. The pimp will then try to increase their “trade” by increasing the number of prostitutes working for them since the money would pool under the pimp’s control. 

As demonstrated in the introduction, a significant proportion of survivors are routinely trafficked by the heads of their families: husbands, boyfriends, the father of their children. 

It’s also important to recognize that while human trafficking can occur to anyone, the poor, racial minorities, and the LGBTQ+ community are disproportionally affected by the issue, given the systemic and generational barriers they face from their families, the economy, the job market, and the healthcare industry.

How COVID-19 Has Worsened the Situation

1. Restriction of Movement. 

In order to restrain the transmission of COVID-19, many restrictions were put in place such as mandatory lockdowns, curfews, travel restrictions, quarantining, and shelter-in place orders. Unfortunately, this means that human trafficking victims will have a harder time escaping and seeking help. Those who escape from hostage may not find a shelter or refuge since many of those facilities have been forced to close due to safety restrictions. Moreover, the United Nations reported that organized crime has increased because their victims have now become even more vulnerable with their financial loss as a result of the pandemic. 

2. Lack of Resources. 

According to the United Nations, 370 million students worldwide are not receiving their proper nutrition that came from school meals and have become extremely vulnerable to sexual exploitation due to their lack of resources. 

3. Unemployment. 

In a Forbes interview with Lori L. Cohen, Executive Director of ECPAT-USA, Cohen mentioned that unemployment has caused many individuals to become more desperate for money, becoming more vulnerable to trafficking. The International Labour Organization predicted 1.6 billion informal economy workers, roughly half of the global workforce, will be in the danger of having their livelihoods damaged, estimating that 305 million full-time jobs will be lost globally by the second quarter of 2020.

Common Signs of Human Trafficking

Per ABC News, the following are some questions to ask that can help determine whether someone may be trafficked. Note: the presence of any of the indicators below is not absolute proof of human trafficking. However, contact your local law enforcement agency if you suspect or have any information on anyone being trafficked.

  • Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?

  • Has a child stopped attending school?

  • Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?

  • Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?

  • Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?

  • Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?

  • Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?

  • Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?

  • Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to?

  • Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?

  • Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?

  • Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?

  • Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?

Ways You Can Help (Donate!)

1. Polaris

About: Polaris directly responds to sex and labor trafficking and use the information to gather to push for big yet feasible solutions to dismantle systems that make trafficking possible.

Website: https://donate.polarisproject.org/page/54176/donate/1

2. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

About: NCMEC proactively provides assistance to victims, families, law enforcement, social service agencies, mental health agencies and others when they need help with a missing, exploited, or recovered child.

Website: https://www.classy.org/give/82059/#!/donation/checkout

3. Darkness To Light

About: Darkness to Light works toward a world free of child sexual abuse where adults have the courage to protect kids by giving them the education, research, and prevention.

Website: Click here

Hotline Resources

Below is a list of free hotlines to contact if you are experiencing domestic abuse, human trafficking, and sexual assault. We would encourage you to save these numbers in your contacts and share these resources with your friends and family.

Nationwide Hotlines:

National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH): Call 1-888-373-7888, text HELP or INFO to 233733, email help@humantraffickinghotline.org, or visit humantraffickinghotline.org.

The NHTH helps connect survivors of human trafficking with the necessary services and supports to help the victim get the right help and stay safe, either through phone, text, or live online chat. The hotline, which is available 24/7 in more than 200 different languages, is also open receiving tips about potential situations of human trafficking and may report such information to authorities.

National Domestic Abuse Hotline (NDAH): Call 1-800-799-7233, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474, or visit thehotline.org.

The NDAH is a 24/7, free, and confidential hotline for survivors of domestic abuse. Highly trained and experienced advocates will offer support, resources, and the tools to help victims find safety and live lives free of abuse in more than 200 different languages either through phone or by live chat. 

Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN): Call 1-800-656-4673 (HELP), or visit online.rainn.org

The RAINN Hotline is accessible 24/7 and can be reached by phone or by live online chat. They will confidentially connect survivors of rape, abuse, and incest with the right resources they need in their stage of recovery through their connections with over 1,000 local sexual assault service providers.

Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence (BTSADV): Call 1-855-287-1777 or visit breakthesilencedv.org

The BTSADV hotline offers a safe space for survivors and victims of domestic violence, while also providing them with the necessary resources and information to protect themselves.

Local/Statewide Hotlines:

Legal Aid of North Carolina: Call 1-866-219-5262 or visit their website at https://www.legalaidnc.org/about-us/projects/domestic-violence-prevention-initiative

North Carolina Department of Social Services: Call 980-314-3577 or visit their website at mecknc.gov/dss/Pages/Home.aspx

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy: Call 704-376-1600 or visit their website at charlottelegaladvocacy.org to learn more


Mecklenburg County Community Support Services: Call 704-336-3210​ or visit their website at mecknc.gov/CommunitySupportServices/Pages/Home.aspx

Click here for more local hotlines.

Stay safe out there and know that you are not alone!

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