Hands of a missing kidnapped, abused, hostage, victim woman tied

Although the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude more than 150 years ago, sadly human trafficking remains a pervasive problem. The National Human Trafficking Hotline reported a 25% spike in the number of cases from 2017 to 2018, handling nearly 11,000 situations last year.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as involving “the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” The United Nations’ International Labour Organization puts the global number of human trafficking victims at 40.3 million. Worldwide, the organization estimates that forced labor and human trafficking is a $150 billion industry. The statistics are heart-stopping: 81% of human trafficking victims are trapped in forced labor, 25% are children and 75% are women and girls.

No official estimate of the total number of human trafficking victims exists in the United States, though the anti-trafficking group Polaris estimates the number reaches into the hundreds of thousands.

Fighting human trafficking involves all levels of government. So we applaud new initiatives announced Tuesday by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and the Richmond Regional Human Trafficking Collaborative to improve the way RVA responds to this scourge.

The collaborative, formed about four years ago, represents the city of Richmond and Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover and Henrico counties. These localities identified a total of 22 minors who were human trafficking victims in 2017 and 2018. “Human trafficking is a heinous crime in all its forms, but especially when children or minors are involved,” Herring said in a statement.

The new initiatives include a case manager who will focus on juvenile victims and work out of the attorney general’s office; training programs; and expanded services for victims. A grant of more than $350,000, which was received through a Justice Department program that aids child victims of human trafficking, will help support the effort.

“This crime is one of the most challenging to uncover, and these programs will help us encourage persons to come forward and support those impacted,” Richmond Police Chief William C. Smith said in a statement. The trafficking of humans needs to stop — for good.

— Pamela Stallsmith

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