Training targets human trafficking


Staff Writer

Thursday, August 22, 2019

About 125 people filed into Rocky Mount’s New Life Church for a daylong series of training sessions in a program titled “Addressing Human Trafficking in Your Community.”

The program was targeted to law enforcement, service providers and community partners and was funded by the Governor’s Crime Commission.

“I’m very thankful for the turnout and very pleased,” said Kenny Sumner, executive director of SAFE, the sponsor of the program. SAFE is an acronym for support, advocate, fight and educate.

The session program said Tuesday’s training was intended as a first step toward creating Edgecombe-Nash-Wilson and Roanoke-Chowan Rapid Response Teams as well as Edgecombe-Nash-Wilson and Roanoke-Chowan Coalition Against Human Trafficking programs.

Presenters included Amanda Gopal, who specializes in sexual assault, PTSD and sex trafficking; Sgt. Michael Hardin, head of the Fayetteville Police Department’s Human Trafficking Unit; and Robert. J. Higdon Jr., U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Also at the workshop were retired Maj. Rick Hoffman of the Raleigh Police Department; Jane Jackson, assistant U.S. attorney and deputy criminal chief of the violent crimes section for the Eastern District of North Carolina; Cary Ramsay, community partnerships coordinator for A Safe Place; Kiricka Yarbrough Smith of the N.C. Council for Women; and Pam Strickland, founder of NC Stop Human Trafficking.

As a state, North Carolina is listed in the top 10 states in the nation in regard to instances of human trafficking and Cumberland County is No. 1 in the state.

During a breakout session, Hardin told about 50 law enforcement officers that the reason Cumberland County is No. 1 stems from the fact that he heads a five-person unit and “(a)ll we do is human trafficking.

“We do have quite a bit, but it is all we do and we find it in million-dollar homes as well as ratty little motels,” Hardin said. “It’s not just the large cities, but it is in smaller places as well. There’s no place that’s not affected by the crimes.”