Human trafficking (labor and sex) is becoming more and more of a problem in West Virginia according to law enforcement officials. A forum to educate communities throughout the state is ongoing, and legislation to improve state laws was also just introduced (HB 2161).
A third forum will be held at 6 p.m. this evening at WVU Parkersburg, featuring U-S Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, Booth Goodwin.
A Growing Problem
U.S. District Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II was among panelists who recently met in Morgantown. He said human trafficking deserves everyone’s attention. It might not seem likely in the small state of West Virginia but Ihlenfeld said human trafficking is a growing problem in our region just as it is across the country.
“What we’re seeing are handlers based in other parts of the country who come through West Virginia, through our truck stops, hotels and other parts of this state,” Ihlenfeld said.
Ihlenfeld also said:
- Many drug-traffickers look to increase profits by expanding into human trafficking.
- In the northern gas fields, the increase in transient workers often means increased demand for prostitution.
It’s not only foreign nationals who are caught up in the trade -- Ihlenfeld said that’s a common misconception. Runaways and homeless kids often find themselves trapped in different parts of the country having been promised work, drugs, or love, Ihlenfeld said.
While law enforcement does plan and execute trafficking stings through the internet sites that harbor illegal interactions, eyes in communities are also critical to help their efforts. Signs to notice might include:
- Someone who is malnourished, or in poor health
- Someone who won’t look you in the eye, or is highly anxious
- Someone seems unable to make decisions for themselves
- Someone completely reliant on someone else
- Someone who says they are visiting, but doesn't know where they are
Ihlenfeld said when one or more of these kinds of observations start knocking at your gut, it’s time to call it in to the national 24/7 human trafficking hotline: 1-888-3737-888.
Before calling, it’s important to note as many details as you can:
- descriptions of possible victims or perpetrators
- license plate numbers
- suspicious behavior
The series of discussions was initiated by the Sisters of Saint Joseph. Fighting human trafficking is a cause the Wheeling-based Catholic religious community is dedicated to.