HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – Human trafficking is defined by the FBI as using force, fraud, or coercion to obtain a sex or labor act. This issue is growing around the country and in Hampton Roads.
Local law enforcement and the FBI are working together to save children and teens from predators.
“When it comes to human trafficking, it can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere,” said Jason Bilnoski. Bilnoski works from the FBI Norfolk office as the Assistant Special Agent in Charge.
During the summer of 2022, the FBI made a big crackdown on Human Trafficking Arrests. Around 200 people were arrested nationwide and three were arrested in Hampton Roads.
Law enforcement pulls out all methods to fight the sex trafficking of minors since they are the most vulnerable. “Undercover operations are huge for our office,” said Bilnoski, “Informants in some cases, but most importantly is tips from the public.”
Bilnoski says they never hesitate to rescue a child in danger.
“We’ve convicted an individual that was soliciting a 13-year-old minor. Individuals can face a range of sentencing or charges from anywhere of five years to life in prison.
Bilnoski says they’ve seen an increase in cases since the pandemic because children are spending more time on the web and on their phones.
He says that if you see a sharp change in a child’s behavior, appetite, or them being withdrawn from normal activity, it could be a sign of trauma.
“It’s important that parents understand who their children are talking to and what applications they are using. Those apps have parental guidelines to where you can make your child safer on the internet.”
Bilnoski says there is also a rise in financial sextortion.
They’ve seen 15 recent cases in Hampton Roads where criminals target teens persuading them to send explicit pictures.
The predator tells the teen unless they send money, sometimes thousands of dollars, they will release the pictures to their family, friends, or school community.
“We’ve seen individuals commit suicide over this. If you are a teenager, this is the most devastating thing that you have ever gone through. It’s a community effort to save our children and teens from human trafficking.”
Human Trafficking Reporting/Resources:
National Human Trafficking Task Force Hotline: 1-888-3737-888
FBI Norfolk: Report human trafficking at (757) 455-0100
Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force: 757-430-2120
Blue Campaign to bring an end to Human Trafficking