Human Trade for Profit in Virginia

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This is the first in our series on human trafficking in Virginia

Modern-day slavery occurs throughout Virginia, the nation and the world. Various advocacy groups are combating human trafficking by raising public awareness of the issue, offering prevention education and helping victims and survivors.

Human trafficking, also known as modern-day slavery, is the second largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world.  Today, there are an estimated 29.8 million people living in slavery worldwide, which is the highest number of recorded slaves in history.

According to the Richmond Justice Initiative, a faith-based anti-human trafficking nonprofit, the average age of trafficked females is 13.

Human Trafficking in Virginia

Human trafficking is the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion,” states the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. “Or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

There are different types of human trafficking: sexual trafficking, forced labor, forced marriage, domestic servitude and trafficking for the illegal organ trade.

Organizations such as the Richmond Justice Initiative, The Gray Haven Project, the Polaris Project, the International Justice Mission, Shared Hope International, the World Fair Trade Organization, and Ten Thousand Villages are fighting human trafficking.

RJI is working toward an end to global human trafficking. The organization has developed a trafficking prevention education program called the Prevention Project for middle and high school students. Also, RJI Advocacy Coordinator Alicia Cundiff works within the General Assembly to lobby for the passage of anti-human trafficking legislation.

The Gray Haven, a non-profit located in Richmond, offers holistic aftercare services to survivors of human trafficking.

The Polaris Project is fighting human trafficking nationally and internationally and operates the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline.

The International Justice Mission is a human rights agency that assists victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression.

Shared Hope International works to prevent sex trafficking, assist victims of sex trafficking and promote justice for defenseless women and children.

The World Fair Trade Organization and Ten Thousand Villages are both fair trade organizations. Fair trade is a movement to stop exploitation of workers who produce goods in developing countries by offering fair prices for the goods they produce. The fair trade movement began in the U.S. shortly after then end of World War II.

The WFTO includes membership organizations with a complete fair trade commitment.

Ten Thousand Villages, a founding member of the WFTO, offers fair trade artisan products in its shops, which are located throughout the U.S. and Canada. The organization played an integral role in the birth of the fair trade movement when it began to purchase needlework from Puerto Rico in 1946.

Advocacy organizations, through individual efforts, are working to raise awareness about human trafficking and educate citizens on how to detect human trafficking in their communities.

In January, RJI hosted the first annual Virginia Abolition Conference, which included representatives of The Gray Haven, the International Justice Mission and Ten Thousand Villages.

According to RJI, in Richmond alone, prosecutors deal with at least four to five cases of human trafficking a month.

Prevention Project Manager Jessica Sutton, who spoke at the Virginia Abolition Conference, says traffickers are using social media to recruit victims in addition to recruiting from malls, parties, schools and bus stops.

Holly Austin Smith, a victim of child sex trafficking, met her trafficker at a shopping mall in New Jersey when she was 14 years old. Smith shares her story and offers an inside perspective on the child sex trade in her book Walking Prey: How America’s Youth are Vulnerable to Sex Slavery, which will be released March 18.

The Center for Missing and Exploited Children states that approximately 100,000 children are trafficked within the U.S. each year.

Sutton says our culture promotes trafficking.

“This is a culture that creates and perpetuates trafficking,” she said. “It’s a breeding ground for it.”

Sutton says cultural factors that lead to trafficking include over-sexualization of young women and girls, objectification of women and men, violence against women and the belief that we are entitled to sexual gratification.

According to Sutton, victims of trafficking can be pimp-controlled, gang-controlled and family-controlled, and sexual trafficking includes being forced to strip or participate in pornography. Some trafficking victims, including runaway teens and minors in foster care, are forced into slavery for survival purposes.

In order to fight the perpetuation of trafficking, advocacy groups promote government efforts to end the crime.

As the advocacy coordinator for RJI, Alicia Cundiff works directly with legislators in the General Assembly to pass anti-human trafficking laws in Virginia.

Senate Bill 453, which was incorporated into Senate Bill 373, and House Bill 994 are key bills that Cundiff helps RJI advocate for.

If passed, these bills would create a human trafficking stand-alone offense in Virginia, helping law enforcement arrest traffickers and identify victims. Virginia is one of only two states that do not currently have a comprehensive human trafficking statute.

In recent years, the state and federal government have made efforts in the fight against human trafficking.

Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 “to combat trafficking in persons, especially into the sex trade, slavery, and involuntary servitude, to reauthorize certain Federal programs to prevent violence against women, and for other purposes.”

In 2013, Gov. Bob McDonnell issued an executive order to create a committee to address human trafficking.

The media is playing a part in shedding light on the issue of human trafficking, including through coverage of the prevalence of sex trafficking surrounding the Super Bowl by media outlets like the New York Times.

Despite the recent promising developments in the fight against human trafficking, advocacy groups say there is still much work to be done, especially because victims become trapped in trafficking situations.

According to RJI, victims of human trafficking often do not seek help immediately because of lack of trust, self-blame or being told by traffickers to distrust authorities.

Advocates urge anyone who suspects or knows of any incident of human trafficking to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-373-7888.


This is the first in our series on human trafficking in our state…

Kate Miller is a multimedia journalist and senior at Virginia Commonwealth University. She will receive a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communications with a broadcast journalism concentration. She attended Smith College in Massachusetts before attending VCU. This semester, she is reporting on the General Assembly for the VCU Capital News Service.




Kate Miller

About Kate Miller

Kate Miller is a multimedia journalist and graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University. She received a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communications with a broadcast journalism concentration. She attended Smith College in Massachusetts before attending VCU. This semester, she is reporting on the General Assembly for the VCU Capital News Service.