A North Carolina man who allegedly forced a woman into "sexual servitude" for half a decade — and starved her if she didn’t pleasure him — was arrested this week, police said.
Salvador Espinoza Escobar, 48, was arrested in Asheboro on Jan. 23 on charges of human trafficking, according to an arrest warrant obtained by Oxygen.com.
Authorities said Escobar was brought into custody after they received a report of possible human trafficking via the National Human Trafficking Tip Line. The Randolph County Sheriff’s Office opened an investigation into Escobar on Wednesday and booked him the following day. The tipster, authorities said, had contact with Escobar and the alleged sex trafficking victim.
“[They] felt like things weren’t right, things just didn’t feel right, they didn’t look right, and she went ahead and called the hotline,” Colonel Aundrea Azelton told Oxygen.com.
Azelton explained that Escobar allegedly wouldn’t feed the woman unless she had sex with him.
“He withheld food and basic needs for forced sexual acts,” Azelton said.
Officials stated the alleged victim is in stable condition and recovering from the traumatizing ordeal. Authorities haven’t released her name, age, or specific details about how she came into contact with Escobar or where she was being held in captivity, but confirmed the woman is an adult.
The police corporal said the detectives are carefully reviewing the case before releasing more details.
“We’re trying to find all of the leads that we can and follow up on them,” Azelton said. “Human trafficking can be connected in a lot of ways to other crimes, to groups of people... we want to make sure that it’s not related, or not connected to any other cases currently under investigation.”
However, an Asheboro woman, who claimed she was previously involved in an intimate relationship with Escobar, said she never felt threatened around him, nor suspected he was a possible sex criminal.
“I almost passed out,” Jennifer Voss, 38, told Oxygen.com upon learning the news Escobar had been booked on human trafficking charges. “I just couldn’t believe it — I could have been her.”
Voss said their relationship began in 2016, shortly after Escobar allegedly forced the unknown victim into sexual slavery. The North Carolina homecare worker described Escobar as a “very dominant” but “friendly” man, who she claimed kept “large amounts of marijuana.” She said Escobar told her that he worked for the Department of Transportation.
“He never gave me a reason to feel like he was this type of person,” she added. “He honestly was good to me.”
But that’s how human traffickers frequently operate, experts said — in broad daylight.
“I think anyone who would do that to another human being has no conscience,” Pam Strickland, founder of North Carolina Stop Human Trafficking, told Oxygen.com. “What we realize about someone who would perpetrate a case like this is they don’t have any empathy. They don’t have any regard for other human beings.”
January, Strickland noted, is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. She explained that human trafficking often goes undetected at businesses like nail salons, massage parlors, strip clubs, truck stops, hotels — and in rural North Carolina — on farms and agricultural operations. She said there are certain, but subtle telltale signs that could indicate forced slavery is occurring.
“[If] all of the employees arrive together, say in a van, and work all day and all leave together in the same vehicle, that can be a red flag,” Strickland stated. “If they work all day in the nail salon or restaurant and they all go upstairs and sleep in the same apartment, that’s a red flag.”
She cited a recent human trafficking bust at a Durham massage parlor, allegedly involving the Chinese mafia. She said victims were recovered after investigators found signs that the trafficked spa workers were “never allowed to leave.”
“[There was] evidence that women were sleeping on the massage bed for instance, or large amounts of food — more than someone bringing in their lunch — or evidence they were having to wash their clothes in the sink in the bathroom,” she explained.
In rural areas like Asheboro, a community of roughly 25,000, where “everybody knows everybody” Azelton said, it can be even more challenging to spot signs of human trafficking operations. Escobar, for example, could become the first convicted human trafficker in Randolph County history.
“It’s a huge hurdle to overcome when you investigate a case like this,” Azelton said.
The police corporal, who’s investigated slavery cases in other areas of North Carolina, said nabbing human traffickers is her “passion.”
“I’m trying to bring that awareness to the county because it is happening everywhere,” she said.
“Victims of human trafficking are not necessarily just teenage girls locked away in a closet or chained in a basement, that’s not the face of human trafficking.”
Escobar, who appeared before a judge on Friday, hasn’t yet entered a plea, according to court records. He also waived his right to a court-appointed attorney. His next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 12. He is being held on a $100,000 bond.
In 2016, Escobar was slapped with a felony firearm charge, which was later reduced to a misdemeanor offense. County clerks also said there was a domestic violence protection order pending against Escobar the same year, but that the case was also dismissed.
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