BECKLEY, WV (WOAY) – A group of local activists is trying to bring awareness to the issue of human trafficking.
In 2019, the United States saw more than 11,000 cases of human trafficking, many of which involved children. This tough subject is just as prevalent in West Virginia, with the state seeing dozens of cases last year. To help raise awareness about this often forgotten issue, a few local activists have begun setting up small rallies in Beckley.
One activist, Noel Berendt, says this is the second week they’ve done this, and just want to raise as much awareness as possible.
“We’re working on bringing awareness to the subject of sex trafficking upon children. Our goal here is to bring as much awareness as possible, that way we can try and stop this before it gets any worse,” Berendt said.
With homemade signs, they take to the streets along downtown Beckley, telling oncoming drivers about the prevalence of human trafficking in the state. They say that a big issue is that many traffickers drive through West Virginia from out of state, oftentimes not being caught.
“People that are coming from other states that are picking up young girls, young boys. It’s a really hard subject to talk about, and if people would talk more about it I think we would be able to raise more awareness.”
You may have noticed PSA’s hung up at rest stops or other like locations along major roads, this is because many trafficking victims are picked up silently, with onlookers not even knowing anything is wrong.
Another activist, Austin Shrewsbury says that it can be difficult to worry about another major like this with everything going on in the world, but it is just as important.
“We’re not trying to strive away from the fact that what’s going on in the world is not awful, we’re just trying to bring up another big subject that people need to talk about more,” Shrewsbury said.
The United States has gone through increased efforts to prevent trafficking. One effort is the national trafficking hotline, which saw a nearly 20% increase in victims and survivors calling last year.
The local activist also created a Facebook group to raise awareness, which has now grown to more than 3,500 members nation-wide.