The Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.
When I first started learning about human trafficking, I assumed, like most people, that it was girls being forced against their will to come to the United States from another country. But, it’s not just that. This egregious form of modern-day slavery affects people from all different socioeconomic, race and educational backgrounds right here in the United States - including Virginia.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline reports that between December 2007 and June 2017, there were over 950 reported cases of human trafficking and 3,999 calls to the hotline in Virginia alone (Link to data). The warning signs are difficult to identify, and those who know how to identify them rarely come into contact with the victims. Because of this, many of these cases often go unreported and victims continue to suffer in silence and do not know how to get help.
This session I introduced legislation to expand where notices about the human trafficking hotline are required to be posted. Currently, the Department of Labor and Industry must post notices in adult entertainment and truck stop establishments; two places we know victims of human trafficking unfortunately encounter. The bill I am carrying expands on current code (§ 40.1-11.3) and requires locations where basic health care services are provided - including pregnancy crisis centers, emergency room restrooms, and local health departments - as well as all rest areas and libraries to post notice of the existence of a human trafficking hotline so that possible witnesses or victims of human trafficking know there is a number to call to report crimes or gain assistance.
So why these places? In a study done by The Health Policy and Law Review of Loyola University Chicago School of Law, 55% of sex trafficking victims surveyed had abortions, and of these calls two-thirds were obtained at crisis centers. The hope is that with these notices being more readily available, victims will be able to discreetly learn how to seek help, learn about resources available to them, and ultimately, get out of this terrible crime. Having the hotline posted and readily available in public areas will not only benefit victims, but it also has the potential to spread awareness throughout the community and allow those who know victims to seek assistance or notify law enforcement.
The reality is human trafficking is something we must better address in Virginia. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Virginia ranked 15th for the most cases of human trafficking reported to the hotline last year. The hotline works, and is an important tool to saving victim’s lives, getting them help, and helping fight this terrible crime. Better educating Virginians about the National Human Trafficking Hotline is a very easy step to take and would prove itself wholly justified if even one person were helped.
Currently, I am working with the Department of Health and other stakeholders to determine an environmental scan of health care providers that will assess the level of knowledge regarding human trafficking, develop guidelines for posting signage in health care settings where victims are likely to seek assistance and most importantly, conduct a targeted health campaign to educate providers and develop a screening tool to recognize and assist victims of human trafficking. Going forward, this is an issue I hope to continue to champion in the Senate.