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Posted at 2:15 PM ET, 06/ 1/2010

Virginia's human trafficking problem

By Peter Galuszka
LOCAL BLOG NETWORK

Virginia is becoming a hotbed for human trafficking since Maryland and the District have gotten tougher on the crime.

The U.S. State Department estimates that about 18,000 people, most of them women and foreign-born, are being tricked or bought into servitude or prostitution each year in this country.

While precise local data are scarce, the trend is alarming enough for U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf, a Republican whose district runs from McLean to Winchester, to call for a federal-state task force to deal with it. "Maryland and the District have cracked down, and that forced a lot of activity our way," Wolf told me.

In late April, Wolf met with the Virginia State Police, the state attorney general's office, the FBI and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to address the issue in the same way Virginia dealt with mostly Latino criminal gangs a few years ago.

Virginia is behind the curve on human trafficking. This year, the Maryland legislature passed laws that toughened penalties for trafficking and required hotels where prostitution has occurred to post hotline phone numbers where trafficking victims might see them. The District has its own task force, as does Montgomery County.

Northern Virginia may be a natural for trafficking because of the influx of immigrants over the past decade. In some cases, Wolf says, Latino women are tricked into responding to ads with promises of immigration papers and money if they take "erotic" jobs in the area. But Wolf adds that trafficking has involved native-born Americans, such as teenage girls who run away from home and end up in prostitution rings.

One problem in Virginia is that police have been slow to recognize the problem. The State Police, for instance, doesn't even keep figures on trafficking. Andrea Austin, communications director for the Polaris Project, which pushes for tougher trafficking laws, says that part of her group's task is to "educate" police to look for the coercion that may be behind routine prostitution cases.

Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli's office says that trafficking is "despicable" and that he backs a crackdown. What is curious is that Cuccinelli is not out front on the issue. The combination of immigration, law enforcement and morality might seem an irresistible draw. It could be that he's too busy with other things, such as chasing down global warming research or trying to impose a sense of modesty on Virginia's state seal.

Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon's Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Peter Galuszka  | June 1, 2010; 2:15 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., D.C. politics, HotTopic, Local blog network, Maryland, Montgomery County, Va. Politics, Virginia, crime, police  
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Comments

Zing! Thanks, Peter. Ya hear that, Cooch??

Posted by: cbr1 | June 1, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

I am not surprised that you find too many human trafficking victims and pimps around Northern Virginia. The spillover effect, from toughened up legislation in MD and DC will cause more human traffickers to head to Northern VA for business was predictable. I am more concerned about human trafficking in happening in rest of VA. I have encountered many cases in the past, though it is obvious that human trafficking is happening right next door, the law enforcement seems to be unaware of the signs and clues. In particular, Virginia Beach area, where the case was charged against a Russian guy bringing 17 or more women for forced labor, the local law enforcement agency didn't even hinted me on possible labor trafficking occurred during our conversation. What is more, though the daily news articles confirms me that the cooperation between federal and local law enforcement is vital in cracking down human traffickers, the police told me that if they find the clues of human trafficking, they automatically hand them over the federal agent.
I don't know why they are not cooperating, but I had the impression that the law enforcement didn't seem to realize the vitality.

Youngbee Dale
Human Rights Examiner
follow me: twitter.com/ybdale

Posted by: ybk_80 | June 2, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Currently, there is a Human Trafficking Task Force in Northern Virginia. It was started in January 2010 by Jessica Johnson, founder of Virginia Stop Modern Slavery and a community leader on the issue, and a core group of organizations concerned about human trafficking in the area. This task force has the involvement of local law enforcement, ICE, US Attorney's office, DOJ, FBI and victim services organizations. The task force is exploring the most effective way to coordinate the Federal, local and community resources to combat this crime.

It is a hinderance that Virginia does not recognize the crime of human trafficking. However, that does not discourage those of us working on the isssue. Local law enforcement recognizes the magnitude of this issue and is committed to finding ways to invegistate and arrest traffickers.

Additionly the US Attorney's office held a meeting on the issue and they plan to meet twice a year to further address and coordinate on the issue.

For more information, please contact me at llc@fdvs.org.

Lisa Lynn Chapman
Program Services Coordinator
Fauquier Domestic Violence Services

Posted by: llchapman | June 8, 2010 8:49 PM | Report abuse

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