NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and the regional task force fighting the issue wants to remind the public about the hidden crime.
According to the U.S. Department of State, 24.9 million people globally are victims of human trafficking.
In 2016, the Hampton Roads Regional Human Trafficking Task Force formed to fight the problem in our area. Since its inception, the task force has investigated 276 cases (prosecuting 28 of them), made 104 arrests, and found 193 victims.
The Samaritan House, which is a nonprofit partner of the task force, says it’s seen an increase in the number victims coming in for help.
“I think when the program started three years ago, I think we expected to serve fewer folks than what we are currently servicing. We’ve currently served 121 victims [and] survivors of human trafficking through our shelter programs,” said Courtney Pierce with the Samaritan House.
Pierce says the tourism industry plays a part in the crime that goes on here in Hampton Roads.
They’ve recently seen some new trends when it comes to victims seeking shelter.
“We’ve seen more juveniles. We’ve also seen a rise in labor trafficking. I don’t think those things are new to our area. I really think there’s an exposure of those issues. That’s why we’re seeing folks coming in to seek our services,” Pierce said.
Homeland Security Investigations Norfolk says that exposure and awareness has helped them. In the past, they’ve lead billboard campaigns and are now working with community groups to alert them to the crime that happens in every community.
“It doesn’t focus on one gender, one nationally, one ethnicity, or even socioeconomic class. Therefore, it’s here. It’s important to something that everyone is aware of and that HSI is dedicated to combating throughout the world,” said Adriana Mirarchi, the group supervisor at HSI Norfolk.
Like the Samaritan House, HSI Norfolk found its own trends when it comes to human trafficking. Mirarchi says that drug and sex trafficking are closely linked.
“The reason we’re seeing this intersection of sex trafficking and narcotics trafficking [is] because criminals can make a profit from selling drugs and selling sex. In addition, narcotics can be sold once. Whereas an individual can be sold multiple times,” she said.
While it’s a hidden crime that targets vulnerable populations, Mirarchi says there are some ways to spot victims.
People who have a lack of freedom and are not able to make small decisions like what to eat or wear may be victims, according to Mirarchi. She says that visible bruises and a lack of identification are also signs.
If you see something off, she recommends call the HSI tip hotline.
“They take everything seriously,” she said.
That number is 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2423) .
Pierce also recommends people learn more about the crime so they can spot it. They offer a human trafficking presentations to groups. To learn more, visit https://samaritanhouseva.org/ .