NORFOLK, Va. - News 3 Investigates continues to take a deep dive into human trafficking.
This week, News 3 is learning more about an international sex trafficking operation that could involve Hampton Roads. It centers around a church based in the Philippines and some of its members indicted in Los Angeles.
News 3 obtained the 74-page indictment related to the case. Meanwhile, FBI Norfolk officials recently tweeted there may be victims in Hampton Roads related to the case.
The defendants, related to the church named, “The Kingdom of Jesus Christ,” face three and half dozen counts.
According to the indictment, the Philippines-based church is said to have 6 million members across 200 countries.
The document goes on to say young women in the church, typically between 12 and 25 years old and known as "pastorals," were selected to work as personal assistants for the church's leader known as "Pastor,” “Sir" or "The Appointed Son of God."
It alleges pastorals prepared his meals, gave him massages, cleaned his homes, traveled with him on international trips and were coerced to have sex with him on a schedule set by church leaders in what was referred to as "night duty" under threats of physical and verbal abuse and “eternal damnation.”
It also states female victims who expressed hesitation at "night duty" were told they had the devil in them.
The case involves accusations of bringing people to the U.S. with fake visas and then forcing them to solicit donations for a fake charity.
It’s also said that some church members were even forced into sham marriages.
“It's extremely disappointing and disheartening when you hear any faith community uses tactics of oppression to harm the people that are within their faith community,” Courtney Pierce, the anti-trafficking outreach and direct service coordinator for Samaritan House, said.
Samaritan House is a Hampton Roads group that’s been keeping tabs on human trafficking.
“When they are coming and saying these things, and twisting their holy books, it's very detrimental to adults,” Pierce told News 3. “You can't imagine what it's like for children.”
She said the trend of churches and sex trafficking are uncommon in our area. However, what's more common is family and intimate partner trafficking.
“We have a family-oriented community. Folks are in relationships and partnerships,” Pierce said. “In other parts of Virginia, like Northern Virginia, there's more of an assembling of gang-related trafficking.”
However, Pierce said the thought of victims related to this case possibly being in Hampton Roads isn't out of the question.
“Our community is a very transient community. We have an international airport. We have military. We have folks that come from all over to be in our state and in our area,” she said. “We have a lot of tourist folks here due to all of our beaches, our hotels and motels.”
This is all why she told News 3 it's important to keep a lookout and speak up on anything suspicious.
“The way that we're going to sort of uncover or see what's occurring is when we get in relationships with people and we begin to ask questions,” Pierce said. “Are we using our faith and spiritual books to oppress one another, or to liberate one another? Those are questions that we should be asking of our faith communities within our area.”
Samaritan House has resources, including a 24/7 hotline for human trafficking victims. That number is (757) 430-2120.