I-Team: North Carolina attractive to sex traffickers

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- At the age of 16, Antonia Childs was a victim of human trafficking. She just moved to North Carolina from New York. She was lonely and vulnerable.

"During this time is when I met someone that I thought was a friend. Over time, he kind of just would talk to me and come to my job and then offered me rides home," she remembers.

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Antonia was unaware the well-educated and good looking man she became friends with was a trafficker.

"He would give me money to give to my family, and I thought I was doing something good for my family."

The friendship soon turned to sexual exploitation. Antonia says she became one of several girls in her trafficker's escort service.

"Around the age of 19, I had pretty much accepted that life and thought that was the only way I could live my life," she said.

Related Link: North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault

Dependency is what traffickers bank on, according to Raleigh Police Captain Chris Carrigan.

"They start pushing them into prostitution, and then if the girl tries to decide you know she's not interested in doing it, that's where the violence and the force or coercion comes in," Carrigan explained.

Carrigan says sex traffickers go looking for their vulnerable victims wherever they might find young runaways and homeless teenagers.

"There are cases where they are picking them up at bus stations. They recruit at malls. They recruit at high schools. So, wherever they can find vulnerable individuals that may be able to be exploited," the police captain said.

Police say the traffickers then market the girls on the internet on websites.

Kiricka Yarbough-Smith of the North Carolina Coalition Against Human Trafficking spoke to the I-Team about why North Carolina is so appealing to traffickers.

"We have all the major highways going through North Carolina, I-40, 85, 95, all come through North Carolina, she pointed out.

Highway map of North Carolina

Arrests throughout the Triangle and Sandhills are increasing as law enforcement becomes more aware of how to identify human trafficking.

"Now, all our law enforcement who are new officers are being trained on human trafficking. Now, they know what to look for on the front lines, and then in 2016, it will actually be mandatory for all law enforcement," Yarbough-Smith said.

A video made by the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys is now used in training sessions throughout the state. It shows law enforcement and prosecutors what to look for when investigating prostitution and other crime that might disguise human trafficking.

Lindsey Roberson is an Assistant District Attorney for New Hanover County.

She spoke to the I-Team about the human trafficking cases she prosecutes. She says they're tough to prove because often the victims won't talk.

"I think we are seeing a law enforcement shift in perspective and also prosecutorial which is allowing us to have better victim identification as opposed to prosecuting the victim," Roberson said.

"You have women and girls who are bonded through trauma and the Stockholm syndrome to their captor, to their trafficker, who then don't either because of fear or because of compulsion or some feeling of love or affection don't want to prosecute the person that's been holding them," Roberson continued.

Antonia Childs found her own recipe to escape from her sex trafficker. The 29-year old started a baking business called Neet's Sweets 6 years ago.

She teaches at -risk teens and former sex trafficking victims the art of baking through her non-profit organization called 'Market Your Mind'.

"It encourages, exemplifies and equips positive transformations in young women to market their minds. That's our mission. I can do something and feel great about it and awesome about it, and I am giving back at the same time."

For more information on human trafficking: http://www.nccasa.org/

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