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Experts say, if you’re looking for the truth about human trafficking, it’s out there.

“We definitely have victimization that’s occurring right here,” Demetria Gilliam-Williams, executive director of Life 107.

They say Western North Carolina has all the ingredients.

“We are a tourist industry-based economy. We have airports. We have interstate highways. We have agricultural workers. And we also have volunteer sex work created in our community,” said Angelica Wind, executive director of Our VOICE.

However, they say the reality of human trafficking is nothing like what you’ve read on social media.

“What these conspiracy theories and postings that are happening, they actually do more harm to the issue than help,” Wind said.

This summer, multiple conspiracy theories circulated online.

In July, a theory claimed online furniture website Wayfair was trafficking children through high-priced cabinets labeled with the names of missing children.

The now debunked theory caused an overload of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The https://polarisproject.org hotline’s provider Polaris said it made it more difficult for to respond to other calls.

Other theories claimed celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Ellen Degeneres and Oprah Winfrey were involved in child trafficking rings.

Those were also https://www.reuters.com found not to be true.

Many of the https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/12/technology/qanon-save-the-children-trafficking.html” The group is outspoken in its support for President Donald Trump.

Trump acknowledged the group at a White House press briefing in August.

“I don’t know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate,” the president said. “I’ve heard these are people that love our country.”

Research found that since https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/qanon-/story?id=72350231 by 71 percent on Twitter and 651 percent on Facebook.

#SaveTheChildren and #SaveOurChildren started trending online.

It also led to events like one https://wlos.com/news/local/save-the-children-event-held-in-franklin-aims-to-spread-awareness-around-trafficking recently held in Franklin.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is all about the children, that’s all that this is about,” said Blake Arnold, youth pastor at First Baptist Church of Franklin.

Organizers of the event said it started with the conspiracy theories they saw on social media.

“I think that even though it’s false, I like the fact that it puts it in front of your face and makes you think,” said Jennifer Hays Milligan, one of the organizers.

News 13 spoke with someone who told their story of being trafficked as a child. She spoke anonymously.

“I was 16. I was commercially sexually exploited,” she said. “My trafficker was 10 years my senior, and it was very much so like a relationship.”

She said her trafficker set everything up.

“He would set up the dates, and I would go because I wanted to, like this was sort of what if you had asked me at the time, this is the story that I would have told you,” she said.

She said she willingly entered into the relationship not fully understanding what was going on. She said it went on for a year before social services stepped in.

She’s now in her 30s and works as an advocate for others who are trafficked.

“I’ve only seen experiences similar to mine and other ones,” she said. “I have never seen any of these theories be played out.”

She said she’s seen the conspiracy theories online.

“It’s stupid, and you’re scaring people in the wrong way. And I think a little fear to kick you into action, a little anger to kick you into action is OK, this is so inaccurate,” the woman said.

Polaris worked on 11,500 situations of human trafficking nationwide in 2019. Here is ahttps://humantraffickinghotline.org/sites/default/files/Polaris-2019-US-National-Human-Trafficking-Hotline-Data-Report.pdf” map of the prevalence of calls the hotline got.

In North Carolina, the hotline https://humantraffickinghotline.org ,reported 266 cases of human trafficking.

For those whose work everyday to fight human trafficking, they want people to know what is and is not the norm.

“For the most part, victims are not held in underground cages or sold on the black market, which is a major misconception that we constantly have to combat in anti-trafficking movement,” Gilliam-Williams said.

Experts say a trafficker can be anybody, but it’s often someone the victim knows.

“What we see most commonly is the older boyfriend asking the younger girlfriend or boyfriend for a favor, just this one favor, and that’s how it starts,” Wind said. “It can look like the caregiver or the parent who may have a drug abuse issue and that they are trafficking their children to pay for their drug debt or to buy more drugs.”

They said sometimes trafficking can also mean survival for some victims.

“Survival sex is really common around homeless and runaway youth. It’s when a person has exchanged themselves or exchanged a sex act for anything that is a survival thing, like water, food, shelter, protection,” said Gilliam-Williams.

Statistics from Polaris show https://polarisproject.org/2019-us-national-human-trafficking-hotline-statistics/ the top five recruitment tactics for sex trafficking in 2019 were intimate partners, familial, job offers, posing as a benefactor and false promises.

“Just recognizing the dynamic is not just a large political power of people,” Gilliam-Williams said.

Although people in anti-human trafficking organizations said they appreciate where the recent online concern is coming from.

“They want to be a part of the solution, so we cannot lose sight of that fact,” Wind said.

Leaders ask that people do their research before they post or share anything.

“As long as our society is distracted with conspiracy theories, we’re definitely not focused in on what matters most and that’s victims,” Gilliam-Williams said.

Experts said to reach out to reputable organizations if you want to help with the movement to stop human trafficking.

https://life107.org/about-life-107-ministries/” Life 107 is a nonprofit organization in WNC focused on sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.

https://www.ourvoicenc.org/  Our VOICE is another nonprofit organization supporting survivors of rape, sexual assault and human trafficking.

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking you can call the https://humantraffickinghotline.org/ National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888.


STORY & PHOTO COURTESY OF ABC 13 WLOShttps://wlos.com/news/local/experts-warn-about-recent-human-trafficking-conspiracy-theories

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