FBI and BCRI team up against human trafficking

By Johnathan Hardison

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - There are children in Birmingham right now who are being forced into prostitution and even sex slavery.
That's the message the FBI and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute are trying to spread during a 2-day conference on human trafficking that started Sunday.

"We realized there were a lot of myths around human trafficking, the biggest being that it really doesn't affect people in Birmingham and Alabama," said Patricia Cooper, a staff member at the BCRI.

FBI agents at the Institute Sunday said not only is human trafficking a problem in Birmingham and the state, it's one that is growing by the week.

"Agricultural regions are another area where labor trafficking is starting to raise its head," said FBI Special Agent Dana Gillis. "And you see a lot of trafficking in the sex industry in areas both rural and in the city."

Whether it's migrant workers in the country illegally or children forced to work as prostitutes, the FBI and Civil Rights Institute are trying to shine a light on the problem in the hope that more attention can get more action from the community.

"One of them is being aware and sensitive of the situation," Cooper said. "Does it seem right if someone seems as if they're being coerced, for young people if they're not living at home. Just those telltale signs and for us to at least be willing to inquire."

Here are some more warning signs that the FBI says could mean there is human trafficking going on in your neighborhood:
-If you see an unusually large number of people living in a single-family home
-If you see individuals who go from home to work and straight back with no signs of any kind of social life
-Frequent police activity at the home

Cooper says those could all be signs that it is time to answer both of these questions: "What does it look like and then what do we do about it?"
If you see signs that someone in your area could be running a human trafficking ring, the FBI wants to hear from you at (205)326-6166.

A new state law was signed 2 weeks ago that makes human trafficking a felony in Alabama.

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