Virginia's human trafficking problem
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.
| 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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