The Human Trafficking hotline reports there were 19 cases of trafficking throughout West Virginia in 2016, but what about the undiscovered cases? The U.S. State Department defines human sex or labor trafficking as forceful or fraudulent recruitment, harboring, transporting, providing or obtaining a person for labor or commercial sex.
It can and does happen everywhere. The Department of Homeland Security said watching out for signs can save someone's life. Signs like noticing someone is being denied food, water, sleep, or medical care; or if someone appears to be coached on what to say.
New laws in West Virginia aim to prevent and penalize human trafficking as well as provide protection and coordinate services for victims. According to this new law, trafficking is potentially a 300,000 offense that could land you in prison for up to 20 years.
West Virginia Delegate Barbara Fleischauer sponsored the bill that became law.
“So these people maybe have committed crimes that they shouldn't necessarily be judged for they may need to clean their criminal record if they are ever gonna get a job. They may want to move someplace else... there gonna need housing they don't have any many money.. They are gonna need a whole lot of services.” Fleschauer said
Fleischauer says services need to be developed for victims of all ages, so West Virginians can distinguish the line between prostitution and human trafficking.She added that existing services today are largely the result of the Congregation of Saint Joseph in Wheeling.
Fleischauer said,“What they did was they provided funding for a half-time position to figure out what we have and what we don’t have.”
The congregation of St. Joseph works to spread community awareness buying, informational billboard ads about human trafficking, and picking outside of various events. They also create little bars of soap with the human trafficking hotline number on it and place them in various hotels and truck stops to allow victims to reach out for help.
Barbara Fleischauer said it's been complicated to figure out how to help victims of all ages, but according to the new law, those who are deemed human trafficking victims can receive criminal immunity.
“Maybe they wanna go home, maybe they wanna go near home, or maybe they need to make a new home.. So we need to have people that can help them to figure out what services are available so they can do what they wanna do.”- Fleischauer
The state Attorney General’s office is taking on initiatives as well, encouraging officers throughout the state to participate in special training programs.
Officer Les Clifton a patrolman in Fairmont, said he’s been trained to look for details instead of the overall circumstances.
“ You know everything from nationality to maybe things they said they were doing, their lifestyle while they’re here doing the certain things they're doing whether it's panhandling or odd jobs.” Clifton said
Clifton’s police department was the first to take part in this training. He and other officers learned how to gather data that will help track state arrests and prosecutions, which will in turn hopefully raise awareness and reduce demand of trafficking.
Clifton adds,“You can’t just look at it and think it is just what it is. You really have to dig in and really have to find the root of why someone's there and what they are doing.”
Officer training to better detect, report and respond to human trafficking is planned for north central West Virginia in the fall.
Human Trafficking Hotline Number: 1-888-373-7888