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Greensboro — A U.S. House subcommittee’s hearing here Monday will consider North Carolina’s improved posture in the battle against human trafficking as well as challenges it continues to face.

The House Subcommittee on Intelligence & Counterterrorism plans to hear from four North Carolina witnesses who have helped the state better it’s 2011 rating of D in efforts against human trafficking to an A last year.

The grades are issued each year by Shared Hope International, a nonprofit group that works both to prevent conditions that foster sex trafficking and to help its victims.

Experts divide human trafficking into two major categories. They include trafficking in which victims are exploited for commercial sex and trafficking that exploits people for their labor under such conditions as involuntary servitude, debt bondage or outright slavery.

Law enforcement officials continue to face hurdles in building criminal cases against those who exploit others so heartlessly, said Col. Aundrea Azelton, the chief deputy of the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office and one of the people scheduled to testify Monday.

“It’s hard to get a victim to come forward in any type of trafficking case,” Azelton said Thursday. “They are some of the most vulnerable citizens who are being taken advantage of.”

She said she will tell the subcommittee how important it is for all levels of government to cooperate in their efforts to detect human trafficking and root it out.

Greensboro-area Congressman Mark Walker, who represents the 6th Congressional District is the ranking Republican on the subcommittee that includes human trafficking among the issues under its purview.

Azelton said she was asked by Walker’s office to testify at the hearing. Her expertise in the field includes previous experience playing a lead role in human trafficking investigations for the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office.

Walker will be present at the hearing, as will the subcommittee’s chairman, U.S. Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., and several other of its members, said Adam Comis, the communications director for the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security that includes the subcommittee.

Officials have said the hearing will be open to the public.

Walker has played an important role in several pieces of legislation aimed at the human trafficking problem, including his sponsorship of key components of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act that was signed into law by then-President Barack Obama in 2015.

“Though I am proud of the success we have had in combating human trafficking, we must do more to ensure that this moral injustice ends and that perpetrators see prosecution,” Walker said in a Thursday news release.

Walker’s office released the names late Wednesday of witnesses who will testify at the hearing, which is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. Monday in the Old Guilford County Courthouse, 301 W. Market St.

In addition to Azelton, the witnesses will be:

  • Christine Shaw Long, the executive director of the N.C. Human Trafficking Commission, based in Raleigh.
  • Ronnie A. Martinez, special agent for homeland security investigations in the Charlotte field office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
  • Carl L. Wall II, special agent in charge of the State Bureau of Investigation’s human trafficking unit.

Azelton said that in Randolph County she is helping assemble a plan to combat human trafficking using the sheriff office’s existing command structure without adding personnel.

She said that one challenge faced by many law enforcement agencies is training officers to recognize the telltale signs that they are dealing with someone who has been victimized by human traffickers.

The House subcommittee reported recently on its website that the hearing will focus on information sharing between local, state and federal officials who are battling human trafficking.

North Carolina is considered a high-volume state for human trafficking based on its caseload. In 2017, North Carolina ranked eighth among the 50 states for its 221 reported cases of human trafficking, according to statistics from the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

The N.C. Human Trafficking Commission, a division of the N.C. Judicial Branch, says on its website that a variety of factors contribute to the state’s high ranking. They include the many major highways that traverse the state, the large military installations with transient populations that attract sexually oriented businesses and the state’s numerous agricultural areas that have a great demand for cheap labor.

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