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Anti-Human Trafficking Demonstration held in Downtown Wilmington

Human trafficking activists on the steps of the New Hanover County Courthouse on Aug. 27, 2023. (Amelia McNeese)

On Aug. 27, a group of demonstrators participated in a visual performance to address human trafficking in the port city. The demonstration took place on the steps of the courthouse, and its purpose was to bring awareness to victims of child trafficking.

As of 2022 reported data, North Carolina ranked ninth nationally for human trafficking. The demonstration was organized by Vanessa Lussier, an artist, photographer, model and musician. Lussier has been a human rights’ activist since her senior year of high school.

Human trafficking activists on the steps of the New Hanover County Courthouse on Aug. 27, 2023. (Amelia McNeese)

The activists consisted of both men and women, which was important to Lussier to show that human trafficking “has no gender.” Each person wore white with the words “not for sale,” to bring awareness to the trafficking industry’s exploitation of children.

She has planned the demonstration since 2018 after witnessing a possible trafficking event while working as a receptionist at a motel in Carolina Beach.

“I don’t know if what I witnessed was human trafficking, but I witnessed something very disturbing,” said Lussier. “It’s important people know the signs [of human trafficking] because I did not know what the signs were.”

Lussier recalled a man and a woman checking into the motel. She said the man refused to provide a number or license plate which is required to rent a room at the motel. Lussier said that the man gave the excuse of not having a car, but she later witnessed him drive off in one.

“I looked at her and she had her head down and she wouldn’t look or speak to me and hid behind the guy. That frightened me because I didn’t know what was going on,” said Lussier regarding the woman at the motel.

She said the man came to the front desk to return the key from the room 30 minutes later. Soon after, another person came asking for a room and the only room available was the one the man and woman checked out of. When Lussier went to clean the room for the next guest she found blood on the pillow.

Human trafficking activists on the steps of the New Hanover County Courthouse on Aug. 27, 2023. (Amelia McNeese)

After the incident, she began researching legislation and human trafficking in the Port City area. Lussier credits the movie The Sound of Freedom as a contributing factor for doing the demonstration after five years of planning. Lussier believes education about the signs of human trafficking can be a step forward to disseminating the human trafficking industry.

“This [human trafficking] is starting to become visible in the mainstream media and that’s great because everyone needs to know the signs and what they can do,” said Lussier. “Recently, when I saw the movie, I cried my eyes out and said, ‘I really need to do this now’ and that’s when I set the date for Aug. 27.”

An onlooker showing support for the demonstrators said, “I am sick of people looking the other way.”

Human trafficking activists on the steps of the New Hanover County Courthouse on Aug. 27, 2023. (Amelia McNeese)

One of the activists, Sky, decided to help bring awareness because he was “homeless and couch surfing” for the past 18 years and is a sexual assault survivor from living on the streets.

“I know that if I was that person [sex trafficking victim], I would want someone to be speaking up because it means so much to know that these people [the activists] that came together could hopefully make a difference,” said Sky. “A lot of people just go about their day ignoring this [human trafficking] knowing that it goes on.”

Another activist said her goal was to help raise awareness and share the warning signs of trafficking to help educate the public on what to look for.

“It is real and is out there. There are children who are suffering and they’re dying at the hands of people not saying something when they see something,” she said. “Try to get a sense of the situation. If something doesn’t feel right, call the police because the worst that can happen is that it’s a call that doesn’t amount to anything, but it could save someone’s life.”

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