VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Human trafficking is the third-largest business for organized crime and growing. Virginia is ranked 15th in national trafficking cases.
"Human trafficking is forcing or coercing of a person to perform sex acts or do labor and not be paid, all against someone's will," said Robin Gauthier, Executive Director of the Samaritan House in Virginia Beach.
Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. It can take the form of sex trafficking, forced labor or domestic servitude.
"It is hidden in plain sight, because the traffickers are really careful about moving victims from one hotel to another, one city to another or one state to another," Gauthier said.
It's a cycle that's hard to break for girls that are susceptible and vulnerable.
"We are seeing young women and girls where a trafficker will come to them and act like a boyfriend or positive person in their lives and start to help them with their basic needs, buy them gifts," she explained.
Over the last three years, there were 180 confirmed cases of trafficking in Hampton Roads, including 30 minors. In the last 18 months, Samaritan House has served 25 youth victims.
"We had no clue how many victims we would find that were minors between ages 14 and 18," Gauthier said.
A new facility called "The Hallows" is one way the Samaritan House can soon help minor trafficking victims. It will be the first licensed facility in the state to house youth who are trafficking victims.
"We found that to be a significant gap - that there is not housing or a place to go for minors. Many end up in juvenile hall or detention because they are seen as runaways," Gauthier said.
Upon learning about the lack of housing, Doug and Pat Perry stepped in to help. For every dollar raised to build a group home and launch a program for youth victims, they will match it dollar for dollar up to $1 million.
Shortly after the gift, a campaign to raise $2 million was approved by the Samaritan House Board of Directors.
"The $3 million project is set to break ground this summer," Gauthier said. "We will have an education facility; we will have recreation, medical needs, dental needs and counseling."
The facility can house up to eight youth at a time. Trained staff would be in the home 24/7 working to help youth recover from past traumas.
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and all month long, Samaritan House will be focusing on raising awareness of the types of human trafficking, supporting survivors, dispelling myths circulating online and educating via social media campaign and virtual events.
Samaritan House will produce two virtual events designed to raise awareness among the community. The first will be "Violence Across the Lifespan," a virtual seminar co-hosted with the Norfolk Public Library on Monday, January 11 at 6 p.m.
On January 28 at 12 p.m., Samaritan House will release “The Intersectionality of Race and Human Trafficking,” a virtual panel discussion, the second in its SAMtalks series, featuring Courtney Pierce, Samaritan House’s Anti-Trafficking Outreach and Direct Service Coordinator.