Commentary: Stopping child trafficking

What's that y'all say? Three of the things that contribute to our self-image as a state — not to mention to our economy — also contribute to the prevalence of human trafficking cases, such as the one that allegedly led to the death of 5-year-old Shaniya Davis?

Representatives of organizations that study and aim to eradicate the modern-day slavery — and that's what it is — contend that wherever you have a bunch of military bases, commercial farms and highways, the likelihood increases that someone is being forced to have sex for money, clean house or work in a field against their will.

Sundy Goodnight, national campaign director of Stop Child Trafficking Now, said in a prepared statement that the discovery of Shaniya's body — in Lee County — "is a grim reminder that human slavery of children exists today right here in the U.S.

"We hope Shaniya's story will motivate us all toward awareness and prevention of child trafficking and propel efforts to put predators behind bars."

Rachel Braver, a representative for Legal Aid of North Carolina also said those factors - plus the tourism industry - "make North Carolina a prime destination" for human trafficking.

When I reached her by phone, Goodnight said, "Our research has shown that child trafficking increases when you have military bases and a strong agricultural presence in the area." That's why, this year, before Shaniya's disappearance and the discovery of her body made "human trafficking" a hot topic, Stop Child Trafficking Now - www.sctnow .org - had led marches to raise money and call attention to what FBI agent Scott Cheney said is "an extremely common situation" in our state.

But before you deluge its offices with letters and nasty calls accusing them of denigrating our soldiers and farmworkers, calm down, folks. Neither said that our beloved soldiers - no, that's not sarcasm - are predisposed to having sex with underage girls.

"When you have military bases, you're going to have prostitutes," Goodnight said. "We believe that a majority of the prostitutes are funneled by trafficking, and many of the girls are underage."

Cheney, supervisory special agent of the FBI's Charlotte office, said not all of the people who are trafficked are sold for sexual exploitation. Many people are exploited, he said, for domestic service and migrant work.

"We don't track what percentage involve children," Cheney said.

FBI statistics estimate that 20,000 people are trafficked in America each year, and Cheney said "it's certainly true that the amount of farmworkers" and highways here contribute to the fact that 25 percent of the victims end up in the Southeast.

Not all, perhaps not even most, of those cases involve children, Cheney said.

When they do, though, it just breaks your heart. Like now.

If you suspect someone is the victim of human trafficking, call local law enforcement or the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888.