VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A local organization credits a regional human trafficking task force with its increasing number of shelter residents.
The Samaritan House shelters victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking, but they’ve helped a large number of victims over the past year and half, according to executive director Robin Gauthier.
Gauthier said they were approached by Attorney General Mark Herring’s office to apply for a Department of Justice grant to form a human trafficking task force here in Hampton Roads.
They were granted $1.45 million over three years and the task force assembled, with a number of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, in October of 2016.
Gauthier said they only expected to house about 12 people per year.
Since it’s inception, they’ve housed more than 60, according to Gauthier.
“We’re renting three new shelters just for our victims of human trafficking,” she said.
The organization already has nine other shelters throughout the city.
Gauthier said they also had to add seven additional jobs to help with the increase.
She believes this shows the task force is doing its job in helping uncover a hidden crime.
On Tuesday, Herring was in Norfolk announcing the task force’s new awareness campaign that will put up billboards targeting human trafficking.
“We’re really excited to have the billboards out there in the community,” she said.
Gauthier hopes that victims, traffickers and others in the community will see the signs so they can be educated on what’s going on in their neighborhoods.
That could lead to even more people coming in for human trafficking.
Gauthier said that if that happens, they may need a little extra help from the community to support victims.
“We’re hoping there will be enough, but if we see an uptick and even more victims, we will have to approach the community to rent or shelter victims of human trafficking,” she said.
Gauthier said that they cover expenses such as food, transportation, and medical care because many victims do not get proper treatment while trafficked.
She hopes that our region can serve as a model to other areas when combating human trafficking so victims can get a second chance at life.
“They will become independent,productive members of society and work with the Samaritan House for whatever needs they have she said.We’re excited this program will continue to grow and help as many people out there that need us,” she said.
If you know someone who is a victim of human trafficking, you can call the hotline is 1-888-373-7888 or text “HELP” to 233733.
If you’d like to help the Samaritan House, you can visit their website.