Do you know Lacy? A short film by the NGO Shared Hope International set the theme for the night. The film tracked the story of a young girl named Lacy who was courted by a charming older boy. As the boy took Lacy on expensive dates and lavished her with expensive gifts, she fell in love and he took advantage of her trust. Night after night, he sold Lacy for sex—multiple times per night. No one noticed and no one helped. This is the very real story of Lacy, which happens to be the same story of countless girls around the world and across the United States—including right here in Hampton Roads.
On Wednesday, August 27th, 2014, Congressman Scott Rigell hosted “Justice Against Slavery: A Summit on Human Trafficking” at the Meyera E. Oberndorf Central Library in Virginia Beach. Congressman Rigell opened the summit by asserting that the first step to finding a solution is to acknowledge that the problem exists. While human trafficking is often not recognized as a local problem, Congressman Rigell called on those present to raise awareness of this exact problem in the Hampton Roads area. To bring about that awareness, several prevalent community members spoke about human trafficking in Hampton Roads.
First, David Dennison from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spoke about the leaps and bounds being made in the fight against human trafficking at the federal level. Last year alone, DHS initiated over 1000 cases against perpetrators of human trafficking. This number is dramatically up since 2010. So what makes the difference? “Support and collaboration,” said David. Working with local task forces that have been trained in combating trafficking has helped DHS be more effective in its efforts.
DHS follows the approach set forth in the Palermo Protocol in the fight against human trafficking: prevention, protection, and prosecution. Prevention focuses on efficient outreach and effective education. Protective services are victim centered, and prosecution focuses on successful law enforcement investigations and criminal prosecutions. With respect to the protection aspect, Mr. Dennison noted that currently, Virginia has no shelters specifically for human trafficking victims. This is a huge problem that must be remedied.
Next, Tanya Street spoke about her story as a victim of human trafficking. Tanya was just another girl like Lacy. She was seduced and sold by a man she thought loved and cared for her. She now spends her time raising awareness about human trafficking and working towards breaking the stereotypes towards women seen on the street.
The night ended with a panel of local professionals in the fight towards eradicating human trafficking in Hampton Roads. First, Officer Michael Hudgins of the Newport News Police Department informed the audience of recent human trafficking investigations in Newport News and the efforts local law enforcement is taking to apprehend the perpetrators. Virginia Beach Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Scott Alleman spoke next. Mr. Alleman spoke about the recent prosecutions of pimps in the area, including a case that resulted in a 35-year sentence for a trafficker. Finally, Meichell Worthing and Larisa Sutherland spoke about counseling services available to human trafficking victims in the area. Ms. Worthing provides counseling free of charge to those who have suffered from this crime. Ms. Sutherland works at Samaritan House, a local nonprofit with 11 emergency housing shelters in the area.
The night ended with an unexpected plea. We were called on to think like traffickers. If we as a community are able to spot potential victims faster, we can beat the traffickers to the vulnerable among us, offering them love and care instead of exploitation.
Thank you, Congressman Rigell, for your efforts to combat this heinous crime in our own backyard.
Emily Arthur, 3L
Regent University School of Law
Graduate Assistant for the Center for Global Justice
For further information on how you can get involved:
Summit on Human Trafficking Resource Fair Participants
Virginia Beach Justice Initiative
, Lighthouse Counseling
, Virginia Beach Police Department: Crime Prevention Unit
, Virginia Beach Commonwealth Attorney’s Office
, Community Collaboration Center
, Samaritan House
, Center for Global Justice, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law
, Awaken Church
, Bon Secours Health Systems
, Newport News Police Department
, Real Life Church
, Identifiable Me
, Homestead Ranch
This link is to the Homeland Security Investigation’s site, which Special Agent Dennis Davidson spoke on. It was not listed under the resource fair participants; however, it may be a helpful link to include if you ID his position with Homeland Security.