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Posted at 3:30 PM ET, 07/23/2010

Will Va. catch up on fighting human trafficking?

By Paige Winfield Cunningham

Last night, Richmonders heard stories of slavery -- but they weren't stories from the 1800s.

"Samantha" told how, at age 14, she was convinced to run away from home by a man she'd met at a mall in New Jersey. Enticed by promises of trips to Vegas and meetings with movie stars, she was instead taken to Atlantic City and sold into slavery as a prostitute.

Virginia is one of only four states lacking a comprehensive law against human trafficking, according to the Richmond Justice Initiative -- a trafficking prevention group that hosted the Thursday evening event.

Still, Virginia is slowly starting to follow the lead of other states taking action against a tragedy that lands as many as 17,500 people in slavery in the United States each year.

-- Last month, Rep. Frank Wolf's office met with officials from the FBI, the U.S. attorney's office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Polaris Project to begin developing a plan for a human trafficking task force in Virginia. The goal? To draw attention to trafficking cases and coordinate investigations and prosecutions.

-- As reported by Peter Galuszka on this blog, Wolf also met in April with Virginia officials, including the state police and attorney general's office, to talk about the issue and call for the state/federal task force.

-- Last year, Gov. Kaine signed a new law expanding the definition of abduction to include abduction for the purpose of subjecting the person to forced labor or services and raising penalties for pimping.

But in the last few years, Virginia's attempts to draw attention to human trafficking have been somewhat feeble. While the General Assembly created the Commission on Prevention of Human Trafficking in 2007, the group met only once that year and three times in 2008. It expired in July 2009.

Legislators aren't entirely ignorant of the issue, proposing more than 20 bills addressing issues of human trafficking in 2005 and 2006. But only one of the bills (dealing with extortion of an immigrant by holding his or her passport or papers) ever made it to the governor's desk.

One hopes that's about to change, depending on how much weight Virginia officials decide to throw behind the new initiative. They would do well to heed a reminder by Sara Pomeroy, member of the Richmond Justice Initiative:

"Just because the 17th Street Farmer's Market is filled with fruits and vegetables instead of slaves doesn't mean slavery doesn't exist in our town, because it does."

Paige Winfield Cunningham is an investigative reporter and managing editor at Old Dominion Watchdog. 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 Paige Winfield Cunningham  | July 23, 2010; 3:30 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Local blog network, Virginia, crime  
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I'm confused. I'm pretty sure that everything that happened to Samantha in New Jersey is illegal here in Virginia already, right? You say Virginia is behind the curve here, but you linked to a fairly comprehensive law on the books. Is there actually a hole in Virginia laws? If so, what's missing?

Why focus a post decrying that things that are illegal aren't even more illegal, rather than, for example, how effectively Virginia enforces its existing laws? That's something I, and I think many other Virginia voters, would like to know. If there is a human trafficking problem in Virginia, passing laws that say "this is very bad" won't solve it. What will?

Posted by: JohnOfCharleston | July 23, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Yes, legislation is important but it does not get to the root of the problem. Raising awareness should be the number 1 priority. Young people who are aware of the dangers will be more cautious and are less likely to put themselves at risk. Perhaps something can be done in the school curricula to help.
A comprehensive law? Yes, that too ... but a good law, not a rushed one. - Prof Patt,

Posted by: profpatt | July 24, 2010 11:31 PM | Report abuse

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