Attorney General Mark R. Herring today announced the addition of a data-driven online component to the statewide anti-human trafficking campaign he launched one year ago.
For at least the next six months,multilingual online ads will combat human trafficking in Virginia by giving victims access to support and restoration resources, raising awareness about the warning signs of human trafficking, and sending a clear message to those who would exploit or traffic victims that Virginia is watching and will hold them accountable. The ads, which will be in English, Spanish, Korean, and Vietnamese, have been geo-fenced to appear on mobile devices within a quarter-mile of rest areas on major interstate highways, and will appear on websites where the services of human trafficking victims are often purchased for prostitution or domestic work.
The ad placements will be updated dynamically to target the websites and rest areas that produce the most engagement and refer the most visits to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center website. During an initial two week trial run of the ads, visits to the Resource Center website from Virginia have already increased by 35%.
“I’m really proud of the work we’ve done thus far to raise awareness about the realities and warning signs of human trafficking, but with more and more victims being exploited and advertised online, that’s clearly where we need to focus additional resources. This will be a unique, data-driven online campaign that is pretty groundbreaking for the Commonwealth and it’s on the cutting edge nationally because it targets the message directly at those involved in human trafficking,” said Attorney General Herring. “These ads can be a lifeline to victims who are being held and exploited. The ads will also put traffickers and those who pay for these services on notice that Virginia will not tolerate human trafficking. The Commonwealth has made tremendous bipartisan strides in recent years to fight the horrors of human trafficking and I think this campaign is another big step in the right direction.”
To combat human trafficking in Virginia, Attorney General Herring launched an anti-human trafficking campaign in December 2014 that included billboards on major highways that were seen by more than 1 million motorists every week, and anti-human trafficking stickers on the mirrors of every rest stop in the Commonwealth, serving more than 32 million motorists annually. The billboards and stickers both promoted the phone and text messaging numbers of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s national hotline, as do the new online ads. Both the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline and BeFree texting helpline are operated by Polaris, an anti-human trafficking non-profit organization.
“Human trafficking is a significant problem in Virginia and it is critical that survivors are aware they can be connected to services and support,” said Courtney Walsh, Program Specialist for Polaris, which operates the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. “Novel awareness efforts like the campaign from the Virginia Attorney General’s Office help ensure the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline number reaches victims who need it most.”
Because of the innovative approach being utilized in this campaign, the National Association of Attorneys General is sharing the materials and strategy with its Human Trafficking Committee and all state attorneys general for their use as they consider how best to combat human trafficking in their own states.
Human trafficking is a problem across the country and around the world, and Virginia is considered vulnerable to human trafficking because of its location on the East Coast, international air and sea ports, and large number of major interstate highways. Through September 30, 2015, Virginia has had the 9th most cases reported to the Center, after having the 5th most cases in 2014.
Through September 30, 2015, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline has received more than 490 calls referencing 112 reported cases of human trafficking in Virginia. Around 80% of the cases from Virginia involve women, and at least 35 cases have involved U.S. citizens. Sex trafficking has accounted for 71% of cases, and forced labor another 22%. Human trafficking is a $150 billion dollar enterprise worldwide, and is widely considered one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world. The United Nations’ International Labor Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking around the world, with hundreds of thousands of victims likely here in the United States.
Attorney General Herring’s anti-human trafficking campaign has been supported by a combination of federal grant funding administered by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, asset forfeiture funds administered by the Office of Attorney General, and in-kind donations of space by billboard owners Lamar Advertising. The new online ads were created by Richmond-based marketing firm Madison + Main.
During Attorney General Herring’s term, his office has held trainings for local law enforcement and stakeholders on recognizing and combatting human trafficking. He has also joined his colleagues in supporting federal legislation called the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act (SAVE) Act (S. 2536), which would help prevent children from being trafficked on the Internet. The federal legislation would require more oversight of websites that facilitate “adult services,” which often involve exploited youths and other victims of human trafficking.