CHARLOTTE (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — It happens every day. In our city. Human trafficking might be a topic that flares up and dies down throughout the year, but the crime itself carries on most of the time unnoticed.

“This is a way bigger issue than any of us ever imagined,” said Hannah Arrowood, founder of Present Age Ministries.

Today, 30-year-old Simone Mcillwain was sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison for trafficking a 13-year-old girl in Charlotte in December of 2019. In 2014, she was convicted of transporting a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity in Florida.

“I’ve been doing this for over a decade,” Arrowood said, “And I can count the number of cases where someone went to jail, and we’ve served hundreds of victims.”

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Arrowood says it’s rare human traffickers face jail time. She says a lack of evidence can cripple prosecutors.

“Our laws have to catch up,” she said. “Some of this is legislative, some of this is we need prosecutors just in generally speaking that are willing to take a risk.”

North Carolina ranks ninth in the country for human trafficking cases; Charlotte leads the state.

On top of that, the pandemic created the perfect storm for recruiters to groom adolescents.

“About September of 20, we started seeing a drastic increase in referrals,” Arrowood said. “There were already vulnerabilities, they are now being isolated, and everything went virtual.”

Thankfully, light pierces dark. Arrowood and her team dedicated their lives to helping victims under the age of 17 in hopes they’ll realize the world as a whole is a lot better than the nightmare they’ve endured.

“We rebuild trust, restore hope and then redefine love and it has to be in that order,” she said.