Billboards spotlight human trafficking in Hampton Roads

Posted at 2:04 PM, May 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-22 17:41:34-04

NORFOLK, Va. - New billboards are popping up all over Hampton Roads with the goal of creating awareness of human trafficking.

"We are going to do everything we can to stop it," Attorney General Mark Herring said on Tuesday morning at Slover Library.

The billboards are expected to make 2.5 million impressions while they're up, according to the attorney general.

Last year, Virginia ranked 15th in the highest number of tips on the hotline compared to other states. "It's a heinous crime that robs its victims of their dignity, their freedom, their identity, and sadly all too often their childhood," Herring said.

Experts say Virginia is particularly vulnerable to human traffickers due to its proximity to major interstates and many hotels. "The way traffickers don't get caught is by moving the women every couple of weeks or every other weekend," said Robin Gautheir, the executive director of the Samaritan House. "As they move from state to state, it's more difficult to find them and more difficult to prosecute them."

Gautheir says victims often will appear malnourished, appear to have healthcare problems, or have someone else speaking for them. She says in the past 18-months the Samaritan House has helped more than 60 people. "We didn't anticipate the problem would be that large or prevalent," she said.

The billboards encourage victims to text "help" to 233733. People who think they've witnessed human trafficking can call 1-888-373-7888.