It might surprise you to learn that the greater-DC metropolitan area has one of the highest number of reported cases of human trafficking in the nation. According to law enforcement records compiled by the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force, approximately 500 sex trafficking victims were identified and brought to the attention of law enforcement in northern Virginia in the 4-year period from Jan 2013 to Feb 2017.
This number, which includes labor, domestic servitude and sex trafficking, is probably under-reported. It is "a crime that hides in plain sight," according to Charlotte Gomer, a spokesperson for Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. "It is very difficult to identify victims and prosecute traffickers. Trafficking is about supply and demand and, unfortunately, as long as there is a demand for commercial sex and cheap or free labor, human trafficking will continue to exist." For the purposes of this article, we have chosen to focus on the most vulnerable segment of the population, children and adolescents.
Any child can be targeted by a trafficker, but research has shown that traffickers often target children with increased vulnerabilities. The most common examples are children who:
• are chronically missing or who frequently run away (especially 3+ missing incidents).
• have experienced childhood sexual abuse, especially if the abuse was unreported or unaddressed, or resulted in the child being removed from the home.
• have experienced prior sexual assault or rape.
• have a significant substance abuse issue or who live with someone who has substance abuse issues.
• identify as LGBTQ and have been forced to leave home or who have been stigmatized by their family.
While no single indicator confirms an instance of child sex trafficking, several indicators combined can mean it is more likely that a child is being exploited or is actively being targeted and recruited. A list of behavioral and physical signs are listed below.
• A significant change in behavior, including increased virtual behavior;
• An association with a new group of friends;
• A reluctance to answer questions or a willingness to let others speak for him or her;
• Being frightened, resistant, or belligerent to law enforcement;
• Appears to have been coached when talking to law enforcement;
• Lying about his or her age and identity;
• Looking to others before answering questions;
• Not asking for help or resisting offers of assistance;
• Uses trafficking-related terms like "Trick," "The Life," or "The Game" and
• Is preoccupied with "getting money" (e.g., displaying photos of cash).
• Multiple cell phones and/or electronic devices;
• Possession of large amounts of cash or pre-paid credit cards;
• No ID, or the ID is held by another person;
• Multiple children are present with an unrelated male or female;
• Unusual or unexplained sexual paraphernalia such as condoms or lubrication;
• Evidence the child has been or will be traveling (he or she is living out of suitcases, at motels, or in a car);
• The appearance of a name or symbol tattooed, burned, or branded onto his or her body, particularly when coupled with the child's reluctance to explain the tattoo, or the child's tattoo matches other children's tattoos, or the tattoo indicates money or ownership (e.g. MOB, barcode or $).
What You Can Do
If you think you have witnessed someone at risk, report suspicions to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's CyberTipline. You can call the 24/7 hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) or submit a report online at Report Your Concern. Another resource is the Polaris Project. Polaris runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline and has phone, text, and online chat platforms for ease of communication.
If you have questions or need assistance, contact Rose Smith, your Freddie Mac Onsite Counselor, at 703-903-2584 (office) or 571-212-3056 (cell). You can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: We'd like to thank Sarah Vanselow, a Notice Tracking Analyst at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for her assistance and contribution to this article.
If you'd like to know more about the issue of human trafficking or volunteer in your community, here are several area organizations you can contact.
• NOVA-HTI or Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Initiative exists to eradicate sex and labor trafficking in Northern Virginia. Located in Reston, the organization mobilizes local church, community, law enforcement, service providers and volunteers to make a difference in neighborhoods. To learn more about the organization, go to NOVA-HTI.com or call 703-634-6061. You can also send an email to email@example.com.
• JUST ASK is located in McLean. The non-profit works to educate our youth and adults about the signs of human trafficking in order to keep teenagers safe. In addition to providing curriculum and materials, JUST ASK partners with a number of anti-human trafficking organizations and schools. Visit their website at Just Ask Prevention, call them at 1.833.ASK2END or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
• SHARED HOPE INTERNATIONAL is headquartered in Vancouver, WA and works with communities nation-wide on the issue of trafficking. Through it's online resources and local contacts, Shared Hope International provides a variety of services including safe homes, therapy, and intervention services for survivors. Visit their website, call them at 866-437-5433 or send an email to email@example.com.