On this episode of the Red X Podcast, Nicole reports on a case of domestic labor trafficking in Fayetteville, NC involving children working for a fish market, and Nicole and Lance interview Sargent Michael Hardin about his experience leading the only Human Trafficking Police Unit in the state of North Carolina.
Nicole shares about her abhorrence for snow. Lance celebrates his fifty-fourth birthday by adding to his converse shoe collection with wife Cheryl’s birthday gift. The only color he is lacking is green! Nicole also reports on her family’s adventures in mountain climbing in their family formed club, the Mountain of the Month Club, and their hike up Occoneechee mountain in Hillsborough.
Lance asks the icebreaker—what animal attribute would you most like to possess? Nicole claims the speed of a deer, while Lance wants some canine teeth for a lion smile.
In the news: John McCollum calls himself “Chief apostle”. Almost a year ago, two former members of his religious organization reported that McCollum was forcing children to work in his fish markets in a religious compound he was leading.
Deputies had previously investigated it after abuse and neglect were alleged. During that time no one was willing to disclose and so no charges were filed. But after months of staking out the fish market and religious compound, enough evidence was obtained for police to take action.
Arrest warrants included that 16 children and young adults as victims, although there could be more over the years of the operation. The compound also contained a licensed home school. Although many of the children had difficulty reading and writing, McCollum fabricated high school transcripts to enroll the children in online college classes. Over the years, the US department of education estimates that McCollum’s organization received a half million dollars in financial aid.
McCollum operated multiple fish markets and owned a small trucking company. His church created a nonprofit to feed children. During tent revivals in not just other states, but also other countries, McCollum recruited vulnerable people to live at his compound. There may have been 120 people who lived at the ranch over the years.
A 15 year old boy who ran away from the compound said that he and his 13 year old brother were forced to work more than 40 hours a week at the fish market. The children’s jobs included cutting, cleaning and icing the fish.
Nicole introduced Sargent Michael Hardin from the Fayetteville Human Trafficking Unit which began around 2015. Previously, the sergeant had served the homicide unit. He then moved to street prostitution cases. Due to the large volume of trafficking cases, the department saw the need to increase their resources to meet the needs of victims. The Fayetteville Police Department now has the only Human Trafficking Unit in the state with five designated detectives. These detectives have a separate building from the police department to make it a less intimidating location for trafficking victims to meet. They also owe their success to their close partnership with NGO, Five Sparrows who is able to help meet the tangible needs of survivors and walk alongside them during their restoration.
Sargent Hardin says that tips to the police are invaluable. The more general public is aware of the signs of trafficking, the more they are able to empower the police with tips. Hardin suggests contacting Crimestoppers if a citizen wishes to report a tip but remain anonymous. One of the main indicators of a potential trafficking relationship is to see a much older male with a younger female. This might be a case of the a victim with her trafficker, especially if the older male is speaking for the younger woman who defers to him. For instance, a trafficker might be making decisions for the young woman on exactly how she is to be getting her hair and nails done at a salon. Sargent Hardin also says that the trafficker is not always male; females are also traffickers.
Many of these cases are so complicated that they may take as long as a murder case to investigate and prosecute. Hardin says that it’s important to work from a victim-centered perspective. Often, traffickers will take their victims’ identification as a form of power over them. A lot of the ladies have a quota that they have to fill each night and can be as much as $1,000 a night per girl. The trafficker will use all ways necessary to retain his victim, including fear and violence.
Nicole says she saw a strange dynamic at the roller-skating rink with an older man and much younger woman and asked the sargent if it would be typical for a buyer to be in such a public place with a victim. Although it is not impossible, Hardin says that it would be unusual. Typically, it would be more likely to see a victim with her trafficker in public than the buyer. Buyers prefer to remain out of the public eye as much as possible and are more likely to be seen in a location where the transaction takes place, such as in a motel.
Sargent Hardin has vast experience with covert operations and says they are delicate and inherently dangerous. Just as dealing with narcotics, trafficking involves exchanges of large amounts of money and buyers and traffickers both may possess guns at the time of a sting. He says that pimps spend a large amount of their money to project a certain image of wealth; they dress “flashy” and drive expensive cars. A trafficking transaction might be happening in million dollar homes or five star hotels.
Sargent Hardin says that his biggest pet peeve is when people say that trafficking isn’t happening in their town as the reality is that it happens in almost every town. Lance suggests that people who want to know more about the trafficking in their own municipality reach out to their local PD.
Nicole asks Sargent Hardin’s personal opinion on how to prevent trafficking. Although, Hardin says he is speaking for himself and not necessarily representing the views of Fayetteville PD, he believes that trafficking occurs because of a lack of family values and a belief that women can be treated as objects. He says that we can’t wait until young people are in high school to start educating youth on values, but that it must start in early childhood.
Nicole and Lance discuss what they learned. Nicole was surprised to hear just how lucrative trafficking is for a trafficker as pimps can bring in more than a million dollars a year. Lance proposes that a small amount of money may be used to make purchases for the victims but that a large amount is spent in the consumption world for expensive items, drugs, bribes, hotel rooms, and guns. Given how much money this illegal business brings in, it is no wonder why traffickers often lead a life on the road, transporting their victims to new cities so that their activity is not detected by police.