CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A Gastonia man was sentenced to life in prison for running a sex trafficking ring with his mother that forced several teenagers, some as young as just 14 years old, into prostitution.
It's a crime you might not think could happen to you or anyone you know.
But those who fight every day to end human trafficking warn it can happen to anyone young or old, rich or poor.
And the local threat is real.
“We have an issue in our city and we have to do more,” said Executive Director of Present Age Ministries Hannah Arrowood.
In 2016, 181 cases of human trafficking were reported in North Carolina, 56 of those cases involved children. In South Carolina, there were 72 reports of trafficking, 51 of the victims were sex trafficked.
“When you think of a 13-year-old being forced to service 15 to 20 men a night it's just unthinkable,” Arrowood said.
Wednesday morning 53-year-old Samuel Pratt and his mother Daphne of Gastonia, were convicted of running a prostitution ring across North Carolina, South Carolina, and New York — using manipulation and abuse to force adults and kids into a life of sex trafficking.
Investigators said two of the victims in Pratt's operation were 14 and 17 years old. Daphne was given a 10-year sentence for her involvement in the trafficking operation.
Statistics show women are at a much higher risk to fall victim to human trafficking, whether for labor or sex. And many times, young girls unknowingly meet traffickers online.
“Often times these girls are going willingly to meet their perpetrators,” explained Arrowood.
The FBI says North Carolina is often a stopping point from Washington D.C. to Atlanta because of its access to major highways I-77 and I-85.
Just last week, Governor Roy Cooper signed a law that will increase penalties for trafficking at massage parlors across the state.