By Eleanor Beeslaar and Maria Harkins, Family Service of the Piedmont

We are excited to partner with Family Service of the Piedmont to spread awareness about human trafficking through this week’s blog series! Maria Harkins, the Human Trafficking Outreach Specialist at Family Service of the Piedmont, has collaborated with us to cultivate a blog series focused on educating our community about human trafficking and identifying ways in which we can help prevent human trafficking in Guilford County. 

Human trafficking may not be something that you think about very often. You may have heard someone you know briefly mention it or have caught a story about it in the news. Though it may not be something that crosses our minds regularly, human trafficking is a worldwide and complex issue that affects millions of men, women, children, and families every year.

Human trafficking is considered to be the third largest form of criminal activity in the world by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking “involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commerical sex act.” It can occur in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender, nationality, immigration status, or socioeconomic status (1).

In 2018, there were 5,147 reported cases of human trafficking in the U.S., and North Carolina accounted for 126 of those cases, ranking it 10th amongst the states with the highest rates of reported cases (3). It is important to note that these numbers may be much higher than what is indicated by the research, as human trafficking is a hidden crime that often goes undetected and many cases are never reported.

There are different types of human trafficking, the most common being sex and labor trafficking (6). Sexual exploitation involves forcing, coercing, or deceiving an individual to engage in sexual acts against their will and without their consent. Forms of sex trafficking include prostitution, escort agencies, pornography, mail order brides, sex trouism, and much more (4). Labor trafficking can be defined as forcing or coercing someone to work for little or no compensation, and it often occurs under the threat of some sort of punishment (violence, accumulated debt, withholding identity papers, and exposure of immigration status to authorities). Victims of labor trafficking may be forced to work in a variety of industries including manufacturing, factory work, hospitality, construction, agriculture, or beauty services (4). Other forms of human trafficking include domestic servitude, forced marriage, and forced criminality (4). The breakdown of these types of exploitation is as follows:

  • Domestic servitude forces a victim to work within someone’s home for long hours with little or no pay. Individuals in domestic servitude may also experience physical and/or sexual abuse (4).
  • Forced marriage occurs when someone is pressured and/or forced to marry someone. They are often threatened with physical or sexual violence or experience psychological or emotional distress at the hands of the traffickers (4).
  • Forced criminality occurs when a victim of human trafficking is forced to engage in criminal activity such as pick pocketing, trading/selling drugs, selling counterfit goods, ATM theft, etc (4).

Being informed about human trafficking is an important part of keeping our community safe and helping individuals and families in Guilford County have happy, healthy, and safe relationships. Throughout the next week, we will be sharing information about how traffickers target and control victims, warning signs of human trafficking, what we can do to help victims and prevent human trafficking, and what resources are available to help victims of human trafficking. Stay tuned to learn more and help prevent human trafficking in our community!


  1. U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (n.d.). What is Human Trafficking? Retrieved from  
  2. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (n.d.). Human Trafficking/Involuntary Servitude. Retrieved from 
  3. National Human Trafficking Hotline. (n.d.). North Carolina. Retrieved from

  4. Stop the Traffik. (2019). Types of Exploitation. Retrieved from

  5. UNOCD. (2018). Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2018. Retrieved from

Maria Harkins has over a decade of experience working directly with victims of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.  As a seasoned advocate she is passionate about human rights. She demonstrates this passion for helping women and children who have experienced domestic violence by providing support and helping them navigate the long road to recovery.  Maria also provides survivors with direct services tailored to their needs and community resources to further facilitate the recovery process. A native to Puerto Rico and fluent in both Spanish and English, Maria worked directly with the Latino and immigrant population. With an extensive background in human services she is now the Human Trafficking Outreach Specialist for FSP.  Maria is passionate about helping those who have been marginalized by society and are unable to help themselves. She is now a participating member of the Triad Rapid Response Team and Labor Trafficking Task Force.

She is presently a member of the American Association of University Women whose mission is to promote equity and education for women and girls. She also serves as a Board Member for Casa Azul of Greensboro, a non-profit organization that promotes Latin American Arts and Culture to increase the understanding of Latinos in the area and encourage community involvement. She was a Board Member for the Latino Community Coalition of Guilford whose mission is to strengthen and support the Latino community by providing advocacy and education through a collaborative and empowered network from 2013 to 2017. Maria has been honored as a Notable Latino of the Triad for her contribution to the Latino community 2013, 2015-2017.

She holds an Associate Degree in Business from Boston University, and a Computer Engineering Certification from Control Data Institute in NYC.  Prior to taking on the role of an advocate Maria worked for Digital Equipment Corporation in Massachusetts where she was one of the first women to work as a Computer Engineer. As one of the few female engineers to hold this position, she experienced push back from many of her clients who were used to working with male engineers.  These experiences are the driving force behind her passion and advocacy for the “Equal Pay for Equal Work” movement as well as women’s rights in the workplace in general.

Maria is a mother of two wonderful adult children. She loves music, art, dancing and travelling.  In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her partner of six years, Wayne Epperly a local artist, visiting galleries and enjoying art. Her favorite quote is “In the winds of change we find our true direction”.


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