CHARLESTON (News Release) – The United States Attorney’s Offices for the Northern and Southern Districts are teaming up with law enforcement, service providers, and non-profit organizations to shed light on human trafficking as part of Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
In 2016, approximately 8,000 cases of human trafficking were reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline, but only 21 of those cases were from West Virginia. Law enforcement officers believe that figure significantly underrepresents the scope of the problem in our state.
“Human trafficking is a human tragedy for which too many cases go unreported. We need the public to know the red flags of human trafficking so we can put a stop to it,” said U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart, Southern District of West Virginia.
“With the climate in West Virginia ripe for human trafficking, more has to be done to educate the public about the issue and to combat it. Victims deserve more from all of us,” said U.S. Attorney Bill Powell, Northern District of West Virginia.
As part of Human Trafficking Prevention Month, the U.S. Attorneys for West Virginia want community members to understand the causes of human trafficking, and report suspected human trafficking.
West Virginia has a Human Trafficking Task Force, chaired by the United States Attorney’s Offices for the Northern and Southern Districts of West Virginia. The Task Force is comprised of federal, state, and local law enforcement officers, service providers, victim advocates, educators, and representatives of the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office, among others. The Task Force recently unveiled its new website, https://stophumantraffickingwv.org. The website includes information on reporting human trafficking, and the Task Force will add more content and resources to the website as the year progresses.
Human trafficking is a federal crime involving the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit someone for labor, services, or commercial sex. In addition, the facilitation or solicitation of children for commercial sex—even without force, fraud, or coercion—is a trafficking crime. West Virginia is particularly vulnerable to trafficking because of its poverty, drug problems, and proximity to states with a high incidence of trafficking crime. Trafficking can occur anywhere, with anyone, and Task Force members are especially concerned about a growing trend of trafficking within families in the state.
Residents should remain vigilant, watching for signs of trafficking. Some red flags for human trafficking include:
•Lacking freedom to make basic decisions during work or free time
•Sexually explicit online profile
•Involvement in prostitution
•Indebtedness to employer
•Lacking personal possessions
•Lacking control of identification documents
•Possessing multiple cell phones
•Lying about age or identity
•Avoiding answering questions about self
•Resisting offers for help
•Expressing unusual fear of law enforcement
Foster children and runaways are exceptionally vulnerable for trafficking. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, one in six runaways are believed to be victims of sex trafficking, and 86% of those trafficked children were in foster care or social services.
For more information, go to https://stophumantraffickingwv.org.