VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – On Tuesday, Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring announced a $1.45 million federal grant to help local agencies fight against human trafficking.
“You need to know that there are so many wonderful people and powerful resources waiting to help you,” said Herring in a message to trafficking victims. “There is hope, and there is a life after such a terrible ordeal.”
While there are different types of trafficking, including forced labor, Herring says in Virginia the majority of cases reported involve sex trafficking.
“A large number of calls from Virginia do come out of the Hampton Roads area to the hotline,” said Herring.
The grant will go to expand staff and beds at Samaritan House in Virginia Beach, help pay for law enforcement investigations into human trafficking, and will create a task force coordinator in the Attorney General’s Office.
But officials say the numbers do not paint the whole picture.
“The problem right now we believe is worse than the numbers indicate, as victims are often hidden, as we say, in plain sight,” said special agent Michael Lamonea with Homeland Security Investigations in Norfolk. “We need to be clear that human trafficking is nothing short of modern day slavery.'
Herring told News 3 Hampton Roads close proximity to numerous interstates and ports make it a prime spot for traffickers.
“There are a lot of migrant workers, people moving in and out of the area,” said Herring.
For those who are not convinced trafficking is happening right in their neighborhood, Tonya Street - a survivor of sex trafficking - says prostitution is never a choice.
“When we were 7-year-old kids, none of us said we wanted to prostitute,” Street told News 3. “None of us said that, because it’s not admirable. It’s not something we want to write home about.”
Officials hope to have the task force started by the end of the year.