CHARLOTTE, NC (FOX 46 WJZY) - Charlotte is the number one spot in North Carolina for human trafficking, and on any given day, the state of North Carolina ranks in the top ten in the nation for human trafficking.
“80 percent of all trafficking victims in our country of all ages were born in this country so this is the girl next door,” said Bo Quickel, the founder of Vigilante Truth.
An international airport, conventions, sporting events, concerts and highways make Charlotte the perfect breeding ground for the dark industry.
“It's easier to sell women than it is to sell drugs,” Quickel said, “than it is to sell drugs, than it is to commit internet fraud,” he continued. “Selling a woman is pretty easy business, sadly enough, but it is true.”
In fact, Quickel says it’s over a $10 billion industry.
Pimps in Charlotte are raking it in.
“It's shocking to hear some of the human trafficking statistics that are coming out of here,” said Mark Blackwell, the executive director of Justice Ministries, “that we're number one in North Carolina and North Carolina is top ten in the country, he continued, “that's not good!”
Blackwell says he saw the unjust activity plaguing the city, and started his non-profit, which aims to help the women coerced to sell their bodies.
In the past, his team would drive to prostitution spots around Charlotte, asking women if they needed help. Now, they take care packages into strip clubs, and the owners allow it.
“It's kind of a weird pairing, you know, you're going, ‘you go to strip clubs?'” Blackwell said. “It's like, ‘yeah for outreach,’ you know, and it works. It's really pretty easy. We bring a care package once a month and get our name out there and let them know, ‘hey, if anyone you know needs help or you need help, let us know.’”
When women do need help, Blackwell is there to offer housing, emergent care, therapy – you name it. His good deed does, however, have a draw back.
“For every girl we take off the street, it's going to create a job opening essentially in the mind of a trafficker,” he said. “Their level of demand is not really my concern. My goal as an organization is to put ourselves out of business.”
For a moment in time, the industry did come to a halt after U.S. law enforcement agencies shut down its main advertising website, backpage.com.
“I'm glad we showed that this is not good,” Blackwell said, “but effectively the internet is still the wild west and you can't contain it.”
Just 90 days after it disappeared from the web, an international site called yesbackpage launched.
“Blink of an eye. Could not believe how quickly that happened,” Quickel said. “It was just the blink in the eye. Of the 8 years I’ve been doing this to have a 90-day window of not being able to do it and that's it, it's demoralizing.”
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein says his team is spreading awareness in an attempt to take sex trafficking industry out of the shadows.
“Sex with a prostitute is not a harmless crime,” he said. “There is a victim involved,” he continued. “According to the national trafficking hotline, there were 895 victims identified in North Carolina in 2017, but what we know is it's just the tip of the ice burg.”
Stein says they now post fliers in ABC liquor stores, rest stops and massage parlors. He says they also work with police departments.
Each person FOX 46 interviewed has the same goal: to end sex trafficking, but each one has a different approach.
Bo Quickel with Vigilante Truth targets the demand side of the industry; the so-called “Johns” who pay for sex.
“I've met murderers, I’ve met thieves, I’ve met people who destroy peoples' lives with drugs,” Quickel listed. “Sex trafficking is a place where all three of those people are the same person, and doing all three of those things to one person. They destroy these girls lives.”
He confronts the customers who think they hired a prostitute only to realize they are sorely mistaken.