HAMPTON ROADS, Va. – Monday is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day and right now there are adults and children being victimized in our region.
There are different types of trafficking to include forced labor, domestic servitude and the sex trade.
At 18-years-old Tanya Gould was graduating high school. She said she she met a man on her senior class trip who started to traffic her.
She said when he came into her life, she was vulnerable. “I wasn't feeling like I belonged to my community. I was sexually abused as a child that was unchecked trauma,” said Gould.
She said she needed validation, to feel protected and heard. Gould said he saw that she needed to hear those things and preyed on her and manipulated her.
“I just wanted to be heard and validated and protected. I wanted security and he said he could give that to me,” said Gould.
For two years, she said she faced constant danger while meeting up with strangers. Gould said one time a man picked her up and was supposed to take her to a designated location, but instead kidnapped her and drove her around for several hours. She said he took her to an abandoned parking lot, stole her money and forced her out of the car, making Gould fear for her life.
Then one day she said a police officer came to her rescue.
“Instead of looking at me as a prostitute. He saw me as a sister, like a little sister, and he asked me, What are you doing out here ?” said Gould, “I knew that he saw me past the surface and he saw deeper into my personhood. He reached in and saw me for who I am and was able to speak to me and offered me an opportunity to go home.”
And providing that help to victims is what Gould now does for people in our community, especially kids.
She currently serves on the United States Advisory Council for Human Trafficking.
“Trafficking happens to every color, every gender, every age, to people with disabilities and mental health issues,” said Gould, “And the reason is because the demand of sex is high.”
Authorities recently investigated a case involving a 13-year-old runaway, found at the Oceanfront from Fayetteville, N.C., who said she was forced into prostitution, according to federal documents. Records state the child was sent home with her mom and the case is being worked out in the courts.
Gould said parents need to monitor what their kids are doing online because traffickers are on the internet looking for victims. “Traffickers are online all the time because that's where kids are. Kids are online, that is their life,” said Gould.
Gould said protecting and preventing children from being victims is vital. But she also said the community needs to work to prevent people from becoming traffickers and buyers of sex.
“I want people to begin to think 'how can I raise my kids to not buy sex. How can I raise my kids to not be traffickers, how can I raise my kids to respect themselves and the next human being,'” said Gould.