Human trafficking is an increasing concern in the United States, deserving the attention of every citizen. In 2016, Virginia ranked in the top third of human trafficking of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The fact is human trafficking does not discriminate by age, race, gender or socio-economic status. Human traffickers see people as renewable resources that can be bought and sold repeatedly.
Human trafficking is based on coercion and the abuse of power of a certain population or individual to commit forced sexual or labor acts to turn a profit. Victims are often members of the marginalized communities with low-socio economic backgrounds and often lack the education or resources to be protected. In this region, we typically see victims involved with the sex industry. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, more than 70 percent of the cases reported fell within that category. There has also been a massive increase in human trafficking cases involving minors.
(i.e.: 22 cases in 2012 vs. 59 in 2016)
In the Hampton Roads and Tidewater region, human trafficking is present in elementary, middle and high schools; universities; the military; and other places. It is a common misconception that human trafficking does not occur close to home.
Human trafficking can look like many day-to-day activities happening in our community at restaurants, clubs, farms and hotels. It is all about forced sexual exploitation or forced labor. Buzzwords, which can explain such a complex issue, are coercion, exploitation and abuse of power. Here are three examples to help explain various elements to human trafficking:
1. A young teen was promised an opportunity to make money, work and live with a family abroad. Upon arrival, his passport was taken for safekeeping, contact with the outside world was forbidden and he was forced to work long hours without pay.
2. A parent noticed her child is wearing new clothing and has a new phone. She finds out the father of a friend has purchased them for her after a sleepover and is now picking her up after school to visit with his adult male friends. The phone and his display of anger are coercion tactics. This is called “grooming” and the beginning stage of trafficking.
3. A young couple moved from Mexico to the U.S. in hopes of building a future together. Anne’s husband encouraged her to work as a prostitute so that they could save money and begin building a home. Anne’s husband kept all the money and would verbally and physically abuse her if she said she wanted to stop.
Virginia has many resources that continue to combat human trafficking, such as The Center for Sexual Assault Survivors, in Newport News. The center works diligently to address issues such as sexual/domestic violence and human trafficking by offering free and confidential counseling services, a 24-hour crisis hotline and many programs and initiatives to educate and engage with the community
Sister David Ann Niski is executive director of the Bernadine Franciscan Sisters Foundation. A strong advocate and supporter of the Virginia Peninsula not-for-profit agencies, she can be reached at 757-886-6025 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.