In Our Backyards
By Josh Hayden
Schools were barely off to their start this fall when 24 gang members were arrested in various locations around Fauquier County. These gang members were arrested on numerous charges, including the sale of narcotics, violent crimes, racketeering and perhaps most important of all – human trafficking.
Fauquier County, in Virginia, is perhaps best known for its rolling hills, agriculture, beautiful rural countryside and its proximity to both Washington DC and the Blue Ridge Mountains. But on this occasion it was the center of an operation that took down a number of traffickers making profit through exploiting the lives of other human beings.
Fauquier County doesn’t seem like a typical location for human trafficking. You can’t find a central red light district, observe prostitutes walking the streets or hear stories of children working endlessly in factories or on farms. Yet, despite being the eighth most affluent county in the United States, Fauquier County is not immune to one of the fastest growing crime activities in the world.
Human trafficking is the illegal and forceful detention of a human being for work and profit by another human being. Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, and it is happening right here in our own backyards.
An estimated 14,500 to 50,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year, while the number of convictions during Fiscal Year 2012 totaled 138. According to the 2013 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report,
“DOJ convicted a total of 138 traffickers in cases involving forced labor, sex trafficking of adults, and sex trafficking of children, compared to 151 such convictions obtained in 2011. Of these, 105 were predominantly sex trafficking and 33 were predominantly labor trafficking, although some cases involved both.”
Simply put, the number of prosecutions are not happening in proportion to the number of persons being trafficked into the United States.
The statistics can be overwhelming, especially when put into context with the estimated 27 million slaves that are exploited across the globe.
But there are organizations across Virginia who are stepping up to eradicate injustice and work on behalf of people whose lives have been taken by the hands of an oppressor. On a national level there are an incredible number of information resources, tips on prevention and ways to act presented on the Department of State’s Office to Monitor & Combat Trafficking in Persons website.
Across the state of Virginia, specifically, there are a number of organizations that act as both hubs for resources and centers of action to combat trafficking.
In October, the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force was given a $1 million dollar grant to create a special task force dedicated to investigating human trafficking and related crimes. Collaborating with the Fairfax County Police Department, Polaris Project and United States Attorney’s Office, FBI, Homeland Security, the Virginia Attorney General’s Office and local law enforcement agencies, this new task force is attempting to address the growing problem of human trafficking, especially related to organized crime groups like gangs.
In the state capital of Richmond, the Richmond Justice Initiative (RJI), is a faith-based non-profit led by Sara Pomeroy who inspires others to act like modern-day abolitionists by mobilizing communities in Virginia to become educated, to learn how to advocate for the oppressed and to take action on behalf of those being exploited by traffickers. RJI has developed initiatives in other cities around the state and has helped pass significant legislation in the state of Virginia.
The Virginia Beach Justice Initiative (VBJI), is an offspring of RJI and works towards ending human trafficking in the Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads area of Virginia. VBJI has as its mission:
“…to bring an end to the issue of sex trafficking by empowering the residents of Virginia Beach and surrounding cities through education and awareness, advocacy and prevention campaigns.”
RJI and VBJI are especially inspired by the work of the International Justice Mission (IJM), a human rights agency that brings rescue to victims of sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression, and works for sustainable and developmental change in nations across the world. IJM has garnered notable grants from Google, Inc. and The Gates Foundation in recent years as they have worked toward systemic change with native communities to ensure public justice systems that protect the poor.
Human trafficking is a significant problem and no one needs to go to the red-light district in some far away city to see injustice first-hand. The exploitation for profit of one human being by another human being is happening right here in our own backyards and neighborhoods. But as the problem has grown, organizations and communities committed to ending modern-day slavery have mirrored that growth, and together with these institutions – institutions like NVHTTF, RJI, VBJI, and IJM, they are signposts of hope across the state of Virginia and around the world for victims human trafficking today.
Josh Hayden is the Pastor to Students and Director of Creative Technologies at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Warrenton, VA. He’s also the author of Sacred Hope a book designed to foster conversation around the role of hope in our lives. He’s written for national youthworker blogs, speaks and writes as a Justice Advocate for International Justice Mission, and teaches classes in theology and philosophy. Josh is currently pursuing his Doctor of Ministry degree at Duke Divinity School while raising two boys and loving his entrepreneurial wife, Shey. Josh blogs at joshuarhayden.com.