VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A new safe house for survivors of human trafficking will soon be open in Virginia Beach.

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On Thursday, the Samaritan House broke ground on ‘The Hallow.’ It will be a licensed facility that will serve survivors of human trafficking under the age of 18. 

“We are excited to break ground on ‘The Hallow’ as young survivors of human trafficking in Hampton Roads have few options for safe housing that can address their needs,” said Robin Gauthier, Executive Director of Samaritan House. 

The facility, located in the Lynnhaven area of the city, will be staffed 24/7 and will initially be able to accommodate up to eight individuals.

Officials say the space will incorporate trauma-informed design and includes classroom space, a recreation room and individual bedrooms. It will also have access to all of Samaritan House’s services that include counseling, advocacy, case management and equine therapy. 

“Oftentimes, unverified relatives, temporary shelter or foster care may be available, but are not the best option for trafficked youth that come to us with severe mental health and physical issues,” added Gather. “And many times, trafficked youth are placed in juvenile detention for their protection, which exacerbates their unique problems. ‘The Hallow’ will be a safe refuge for these young survivors to begin healing.”

The Hallow is the result of work done by the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force, which started in 2016.

According to their data, there have been 299 confirmed cases of trafficking in Hampton Roads, including 55 minors since its creation.

Gauthier says during that time, they’ve helped 189 victims, including secondary victims, and many are children.

“When we started the task force and started finding victims in Hampton Roads and beyond, we had no idea we could come across so many children. That’s why we really thought with our last strategic plan at the Samaritan House to provide a place with minors to live because there’s no place for them to go,” she said.

Dozens who are involved with the task force were on hand for the groundbreaking ceremony, including retired special agent Michael Lamonea. Lamonea was the special agent in charge at Homeland Security Investigations and helped start the task force in 2016.

“I expected to have a lot of things because there’s such great passion and partners in the area,” Lamonea said about the outcomes of the task force. “I knew great things were going to come. Seeing things like this come to fruition, it warms my heart. Our kids are our most precious resources. To have a facility like this for kids traumatized by human trafficking, to give them a second chance at life is a great feeling.”

While anyone can become a victim of trafficking, Lamonea says minors are at a greater risk because of their vulnerability.

“There’s personal issues and troubles and with the evolution and continued evolution of technology and social media. It creates a platform for traffickers to exploit and they exploit with drug dependency to lure them into this heinous crime,” he said.

The state’s new anti-human trafficking director Tanya Gould says having facilities like the Hallows show there are gaps in services and working with communities helps to fill them.

“Having this here as a resource for kids, it’s important and it’s a part of our community working together to make sure kids have what they need to thrive when they find themselves in these situations,” she said.

Gould’s position is through Attorney General Jason Mirayes’ office. She’s a survivor of human trafficking and says Mirayes is passionate about working to eradicate the crime.

Hampton Roads being proactive about stopping human trafficking and finding victims helps.

“In my role, I can’t do it myself. So, I have to connect with communities, community resources. In order to have this holistic approach so we know there are no gaps. So, we’re able to talk to community partners and say this is the support we need. That’s the role of our office, is to get the support we need. Jason’s passion and heart is toward that. He wants people to feel support by the attorney general’s office.

Officials say it will take six months to build The Hallow and they are currently going through the process of getting licensing from the Department of Behavioral Health to operate the facility.

Virginia ranks 15th nationally when it comes to human trafficking cases.

Human Trafficking Prevention Resources

10 On Your Side has compiled a list of local and national resources for residents to fight and prevent human trafficking.

Avalon Center in Williamsburg

  • Phone: 757-258-5022
  • Offers transitional housing, emergency shelter, youth services, legal advice, and counseling.
  • 24-hour Crisis Hotline: 757- 258-5051

Samaritan House Inc. in Virginia Beach

  • Phone: 757-631-0710
  • Offers counseling, emergency shelter placement, and safety planning.
  • 24-hour Crisis Hotline 757-430-2120

HER Shelter in Portsmouth

  • Phone: 757-485-1445
  • Offers emergency services, court assistance, shelter, employment, housing assistance.
  • Hotline: 757-485-3384

Eastern Shore Coalition Against Domestic Violence

  • Hotline number: 757-787-1329
  • Offers: an emergency shelter, 24-hour crisis hotline, individual counseling, safety planning, children’s services, legal advocacy, accompaniment during hospital visits and court appearances and support groups to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
  • Website: https://www.escadv.org/ 

National Human Trafficking Task Force Hotline: 1-888-3737-888.  

Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force -757-430-2120

Prevent Child Abuse America – Coronavirus Resources & Tips for Parents, Children & Others.

Child abuse and neglect are serious problems that can have lasting harmful effects on its victims. For more information on preventing child abuse and neglect check out resources from the CDC or call The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453 for help.