#minorsextrafficking | Human trafficking prevention bills assist local organizations in crime’s hotbed | Fairfax County

Recently passed human trafficking prevention bills have been seen as all-encompassing combatants to the crime amid high regional activity, Northern Virginia-based prevention and education groups say. 

The seven bills, signed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) in Richmond at the first Human Trafficking Commission meeting June 8, look to “eradicate” human trafficking in Virginia, he said at the signing. Six of the seven bills go into effect July 1 and span from law enforcement training and granting in-state tuition for non-Virginians trafficked into the state to vacating charges of trafficked people who were forced to commit crimes, among others. 

“[Youngkin’s] addressed every level of what is needed to truly and effectively fight human trafficking,” said Erin Fisher, executive director for Anti-Trafficking International, a non-profit that leads youth prevention education and training, among other programs, with most of its volunteers and leadership team based in Northern Virginia. “He has really gone to others who are experts in the area, listened to the advice, listened to what the needs are and really put together probably the most comprehensive trafficking package that any other state in the country has.”
In Fairfax County specifically, human trafficking is prevalent, largely due to its proximity to two international airports and activity in the I-95 corridor and along I-66, said Kim Luckabaugh, executive director of Reset180, a Reston-based non-profit that promotes prevention and disruption against human trafficking and restoration though counseling and other aids for adult women.  

Human trafficking has increased exponentially through the pandemic in the region — one of the few crimes that rose during it, Luckabaugh said. According to data from Freedom Signal, an online app for service providers and advocates to reach victims of online sex trafficking, there were 19,873 people advertised online for sexual services in a 50-mile radius from Reset180’s office in 2019. In 2021, there were 121,738. 

In a 17-mile radius from the office, sexual servicing advertisements did drop from 27,044 in 2020 to 12,429 in 2021. Some of these women are living a double life — still going to school and sleeping in their own beds at night, Luckabaugh said. 

“When you stop and realize that that’s that number of people who are being exploited, services being sold against their wishes, that’s horrifying,” Luckabaugh said. “It’s not that it’s just done in these certain areas of Fairfax County, it’s happening in our own communities.”

Trafficking in Fairfax County — and the D.C.-metro area as a whole — can be more complicated to catch because of the area’s high number of gangs compared to the rest of the state, Fisher said. It’s difficult to pin one gang member to a trafficking crime, she said, because gangs frequently partner with cartel members who don’t live in the neighborhood but are “facilitating” the trafficking by paying for the hotel room, and the operations’ money flows up many, many levels. 

Awareness with education is one of the No. 1 ways to combat trafficking, Fisher said, whose organization has age-specific curriculum installed in Fairfax and Loudon county public schools for sixth-12th graders that focuses on online safety, noticing exploitation and sexual violence education, among other topics. Most gangs and traffickers target already-vulnerable populations — sometimes children, and boys as well as girls — who are uneducated about trafficking, experience housing instability or abuse, said Stacey Ziebell, program manager for the county-wide coordination team of Domestic and Sexual Violence Services, which is within Fairfax County Government’s Department of Family Services. 
“Human trafficking can happen to anyone,” Ziebell said. “We’re seeing younger kids, we’re seeing more and more like … 7 to 10-11 year olds now, which is a disturbing trend. 

“Anything that helps to strengthen the response and add on with prevention and so on, we get behind, of course.”

One of the bills — HB 1334, patroned by Delegate Kathleen Murphy (D-Fairfax County) — directly impacts child trafficking victims, changing the definition of “abused or neglected child” to also include children who are sexually abused by an intimate partner of their parent or caregiver, and any child abuse or neglect complaint alleging sex trafficking must be deemed valid, even if the alleged abuser hasn’t been identified. 

“Any kind of decisions or policies that support victims and survivors and help break down barriers to access — that’s exactly what we want to focus on,” Ziebell said. “Anything that’s really building up prevention and coordination and providing services to victims and survivors who need it is great.”

Luckabaugh said it’s Reset180’s “hope” that the new legislation deters future trafficking, but that the organization wants to make men in particular part of the solution rather than the problem. She encourages men to build awareness in their networks to protect sisters, nieces and daughters. 

As for the legislation, Luckabaugh said, it’s not in lieu of any one trafficking incident — “It’s always a good time to enact this legislation.” 

“What you saw [Youngkin] sign the other week is just the starting point,” Luckabaugh. “We all want to see this eradicated, so we all need to and want to work together to meet that end.”


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