HAMPTON ROADS, Va.— January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. It’s a time dedicated to raising awareness about the different forms of human trafficking, also known as modern-day slavery.
Human trafficking effects tens of thousands of people every year in this country, and women and children are more likely to be victims.
Mollie Thorsen works for A21, a global non-profit that battles human trafficking. She says there is a growing online presence from human traffickers, and that means there’s growing opportunity for traffickers to target victims.
“We know from the National Human Trafficking Hotline that there were nearly 50,000 calls to the hotline last year, resulting in 11,000 cases of human trafficking,” Thorsen said.
Trafficking can look like being recruited for false job opportunities or being sold by a family member into labor or sex trafficking.
“For sex trafficking, [look out for] if you see someone with a lack of identification, someone who doesn’t know where they are, someone who may look a little malnourished or lacking medical care,” she said.
Locally, the Virginia Beach Justice Initiative works to end human trafficking in Hampton Roads.
Victim Services Director Joy Dudley led a Facebook Live discussion with the Newport News Police Department’s Domestic Violence Team Thursday to bringing awareness to how human trafficking and domestic violence are often closely intertwined.
“The hallmark of someone who is a victim of human trafficking or domestic violence is that there is some sort of sexual or physical abuse,” Dudley said.
They explained that human trafficking and domestic violence can happen anywhere, and oftentimes it is a parent or an intimate partner who is the offender.
“I can’t tell you how many times I hear that story over and over again, about a child being trafficked by a parent or another family member,” Dudley said.
They say victims are often isolated from friends and family and feel like the abuser is all they have, so they can get stuck in a cycle of trauma that is difficult to break.
Experts say it’s important to talk about abuse and human trafficking publicly to shatter the stigma and spread awareness.
“You never know what could happen and who might see it and what life could be saved because of your courage to share it,” Thorsen said.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline number is 1-888-373-7888. People can speak to an victim’s advocate or report a potential human trafficking situation.