KANNAPOLIS- Students with A.L. Brown High School’s Diversity Society were presented with $250 for a human trafficking public service (PSA) announcement they created.

The announcement, created by students Arshad Baruti, Samuel Jijon-Bacillo and Ryne Drye, illustrated possible victims, where it can happen and why people should recognize the risk and protect their youth.

The PSA competition was sponsored by Present Age Ministries, an organization committed to combating the sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking of teen girls. The winner was announced during a Cabarrus County Human Trafficking Task Force community event recently held at the Kannapolis Performing Arts Center.

“We decided to reach out to high school students and tell them here’s what human trafficking is and talk to them about what you can do and what you can’t do. We said we wanted to have a PSA campaign that can be used to educate peers and the community,” Hannah Arrowood, executive director of Present Age Ministries, said. “These kids don’t have to wait until they are adults to change their community.”

Baruti, Jigon-Bacillo and several other A.L. Brown students attended the event to learn more about the topic and how they can help protect their peers.

“I’m going to be 100 percent honest, I had never thought of it. I had never sat down and thought ‘Does this really happen in our community?’ Jigon-Bacillo said. “And when we heard about the competition, we found out it is a very real and scary thing. If we can put our little grain of salt in there and help in any way, we wanted to.”

Wrapping up Human Trafficking Awareness Month

Ashlie Shanley, chief assistant district attorney for Cabarrus County, said the task force decided to hold the community informational event because January was Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and the issue has been in the headlines a lot lately.

She referenced the case of Larry Nassar, former USA Gymnastics national team doctor, charged with molesting young women under the guise of medical care.

“If you have had the opportunity to look at the headlines in the news this past month, you know that so many brave victims have come forward about their sexual abuse. I had the opportunity to hear one of the sentencing hearings for the gymnasts who were abused,” Shanley said. “And one of the gymnasts was just so compelling when she said something that human trafficking victims around the world have said. That if just one adult had paid attention to what was going on, if one adult had asked some questions, if one adult had reported what they knew; then the abuse would have stopped.”

Looking out over those in attendance, Shanley said she is thankful to live in a community that is made up of adults who want to help and told them this meeting would help them do just that.

“We want to give you information so you can look around and know what to look for, so you can ask the right questions and you know where to report what you see,” she said. “We have learned that traffickers act with very little risk in a community that doesn’t know what’s going on. And because of that we, the agencies here in Cabarrus County, decided to form the Human Trafficking Task Force.”

The task force includes representatives from the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Department, the Concord Police Department, the Kannapolis Police Department, Cabarrus County Department of Human Services, Present Age Ministries, Redeeming Joy, Kannapolis City Schools and Cabarrus County Schools.

Shanley said the goal of the task force is to educate the community and to make trafficking stop.

“We hope that as you are presented with this information tonight, you will take it, you will educate yourselves and then you will reach out and educate the community and help us,” she said. “You’ll be the adult and you’ll be the young person who sees, who asks, who does something. You’ll never know if it’s you or the person you reach out to that stops the abuse.”

It’s happening in all of the high schools

Detective April Samples, who works with the sheriff’s office and on the FBI task force for violent crimes again children, said she gets asked every day if human trafficking is really happening in Cabarrus County. The answer is yes.

She said nationally between 100,000 to 300,000 youth are at risk to be lured into commercial sexual exploitation annually. At least 100,000 children are sold into the sex trade every year in the United States and the most common age of entry is 12 to 14.

As she said at a previous event, Samples told the audience that human trafficking is not like the move “Taken.”

“These victims are not kidnapped. They are usually lured by some form of force or coercion. So when I say sex trafficking of minors, this occurs when someone does a commercial sex act for anything of value,” Samples said. “That could include sex, pornography, a sexual performance; anything that is done for something like money, drugs, shelter, food, clothing or sometimes just love.”

Although she said statistics on human trafficking are overall unreliable because it’s under reported, North Carolina always ranks among the top 15 states in the country for the issue. She said the Charlotte area is always No. 1.

“It’s happening at our schools. It’s happening at the mall. It’s on the internet, social media. We’ve got pimps recruiting victims at high school football games and inviting them to after parties,” she said. “We’ve had actual victims recruiting victims from the schools.”

According to Samples, the hub of human trafficking activity is Concord Mills because pimps go there to recruit teenage girls.

“We have had victims from nearly every high school in the county. So for those of you that say this isn’t here and can’t imagine that, I will tell you that is it here and we need to recognize that and we need to show all of the not just girls but the boys too in our lives, they need to know what to look for and they need to know this behavior is unacceptable,” Samples said.

She also encouraged anyone who is interested in her coming and speaking to a group about this issue to call the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office to schedule a time.

10 common signs for domestic trafficking

- Does not self-identify as a victim

- Has multiple phones or electronic devices

- Inappropriate use of social media platforms

- Seen with another person who appears controlling

- Apparent signs of abuse: physical and emotional

- Appearance of being emotionally disconnected

- Has someone to do their speaking for them

- Evidence of poor health and personal hygiene

- Poor or non-existent record of school attendance

- Numerous inconsistencies in story

If you believe you have information about a potential trafficking situation, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to 233733 (BEFREE). All reports are confidential and you may remain anonymous.

Get today’s top stories right in your inbox. Sign up for our daily newsletter.

Recommended for you