Absence of critical law threatens Virginia’s kids at risk for trafficking

virginia-newVirginia is the only state in the nation that lacks a law against human trafficking for sexual exploitation, a crime that impacts an estimated 100,000 U.S. children each year. According to a new study by Shared Hope International, Virginia is one of seven least protective states for at-risk kids, based on the insufficiency of its anti-trafficking laws.

In May 2014, a Roanoke County Police officer pulled over a van after she noticed rocking and other abnormal behavior. She found 16 people inside, piled on top of each other, the van smelling of sweat and urine. The driver indicated the individuals inside believed they were being taken to get a job or a visa; instead, they had been sold for $200 each. The officer was unable to arrest the driver because Virginia does not have a specific human trafficking law and federal law enforcement agents were unavailable to help with the arrest.

Shared Hope International launched the Protected Innocence Challenge, an annual evaluation of the sufficiency of state laws that impact child sex trafficking, in 2011 to respond to this dynamic. Previously, many states relied on federal statutes to address the crime; yet, many trafficking crimes were not accepted for federal prosecution, forcing states to handle the cases locally and relying on weak or insufficient laws. The Protected Innocence Challenge aims to advocate for stronger state laws to activate the nearly 30,000 state prosecutors across the nation. Over half the nation earned failing scores on the inaugural 2011 report card. Since then, 42 states have raised their grade and today only 4 states are earning failing grades.

As states strengthen laws, enabling more aggressive investigation and prosecution, traffickers may be searching for states with lower risk and greater tolerance. Only six states earned a lower score than Virginia, one being neighboring district, Washington, D.C., making the area at greater risk of attracting human trafficking.

Delegate Tim Hugo (VA-40) will announce his plans to strengthen Virginia’s human trafficking laws and raise the grade at a press conference on November 6 at the Capitol Visitor Center. Watch livestream or attend.

“I believe there is no worse crime than one committed against a child,” Delegate Tim Hugo said. “As a father, I am dedicated to ensuring child sex traffickers remain behind bars longer for such horrific behavior, so that neither my children nor any child in Virginia falls prey to those who seek them harm.”

Additionally, Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf will receive Shared Hope’s Lifetime Pathbreaker Award for a lifetime dedication to eradicating trafficking. Congressman Wolf is one of the House of Representatives’ leading crusaders for human rights. He actively implored the Obama administration to increase its efforts to combat child sex trafficking facilitated through online classified sites like Backpage.com. Rep. Wolf has historically supported increases for Victims of Trafficking grants to develop stronger programs for victims.

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