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ASHEBORO – Sheriff Greg Seabolt received approval to start a focused effort on combatting child sex trafficking and child sex exploitation.


During their monthly meeting, Randolph County commissioners voted in support of the Invictus Project, a collaboration with three other sheriff's offices, the non-profit Lantern Rescue Foundation in Asheboro, the Department of Homeland Security and the North Carolina Statue Bureau of Investigation (SBI).

The Invictus Project is aimed at proactively catching child sex predators before they can cause lasting harm to children and teenagers.


"With an interstate and several US highways running through Randolph County, it opens the door for forced labor, sexual slavery or commercial sexual exploitation," Seabolt said of the accessibility to the county at the heart of the state.


Seabolt opened his presentation at the Dec. 4 meeting with a recap of Operation Child Predator, which resulted in the arrest of 19 individuals in three days in August. All were accused of trying to meet children for sex, most of them coming from outside the county, with one traveling from as far as Illinois.

"The operation showed that predators will not hesitate to drive long distances with the intention of sexually abusing our children," Seabolt said.


He said that law enforcement struggle with a lack of staff and resources for investigating reports of child sex abuse and exploitation. The number of cyber tips has gone up from 4,930 in 2019 to a projected 27,000 by the end of 2023. Randolph County has received 109 cyber tips so far this year.


The goal of the Invictus Project is to alleviate those setbacks by creating a task force of agents from Randolph, Davidson, Alamance and Forsyth Counties working closely with the state and federal agencies to investigate human trafficking.


Lantern Rescue, which is headquartered in Asheboro, will also be part of the Invictus Project. The non-profit helps with human trafficking rescue operations around the world. It also works with victims to help them support themselves and recover their independence.


Founder Sam Hicks spoke at the meeting, and said it's important to have affordable, grassroots coordination. "In 2022, I briefed governors and chiefs of staff on child sexual material in their states,” he said. “They didn't know what to do because there was no steering committee. It's remarkable that these sheriffs, with SBI and Homeland Security, are working together."


Seabolt called its forensic lab the "cornerstone" of the initiative, saying it will have five workstations capable of keeping pace with a high volume of cases and evidence.


Kevin Roughton, Special Agent in Charge of the SBI, said the Invictus Project is the first of its kind in North Carolina. "Constantly, I'm hearing from agencies saying, 'We can't put people on this. We have to pull people away from it.' This is taking priority here, and you are putting resources into it. The prevention aspect will save children's lives."

Commissioners approved the request for $755,430 in start-up costs. Lantern Rescue will reimburse up to $250,000 of those costs, and an additional $250,000 for lab licensing fees through 2027. The Alamance, Davidson and Forsyth County Sheriff's Offices will help staff the program with detectives, a forensic technician and an intelligence analyst.

The funding will help renovate the task force office space currently at North Gate, purchase uniforms and equipment, and other costs.


Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson said the agencies owe it to children to keep them safe from child predators. "It's wonderful that the sheriffs have gotten together with state agencies to go after these people,” he said. “I want to see the day they don't want to come to Randolph, Davidson, Forsyth or Alamance County. If they do, we've got a place for them. It's called county jail or federal jail."