Glynis Board Published

Groups Work to Combat Rise of Human Trafficking in W.Va.


In Morgantown, law enforcement officials met to learn about human trafficking in West Virginia. Apparently, reports of trafficking in the state are on the rise, but that might be a good thing.

Human trafficking: modern-day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others either for sex or labor.

It’s considered one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world with an estimated 20 million enslaved, 14 million of which are women and children.

And it’s here in West Virginia, although not many are aware or recognize red flags that might indicate criminal activity.

Human Trafficking on the Rise?

Number of reports, investigations, and the amount of attention on the problem of human trafficking continues to rise each year. For example, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) experienced a 259% increase in calls between 2008 and 2012.

But modern human trafficking has only been a serious subject of concern on the planet for like 5-8 years (if you can believe that).

And since trafficking is pretty much illegal everywhere, there are few hard statistics to quote, and a baseline is harder still to establish. But many experts seem to report the same story: it’s bad and getting worse. Many sources report that hundreds of billions of dollars are made each year trafficking human beings. Numbers like that are hard to slow down.

Human Trafficking in West Virginia

“Both the drug dealers and now human traffickers are finding out that this is easy territory because law enforcement isn’t really beefed up on the red flags to look for,” said Thom Kirk, director of the WV Intelligence Fusion Center.

He said the eastern and northern panhandles are considered hot spots because so many traffickers travel through the areas. It’s a convenient place to stop, he said, because enforcement is much tighter in neighboring states.

But now other areas in the state, like the southern coalfields, are seeing activity, too.

“It’s associated with the heroin problem that has just exploded in this state,” Kirk said. “A dealer will come in with not only a shipment of heroin, but also expanding their profit margin with the sale of the people they have there.

“Especially kids,” said Kirk, “it’s amazing the number of kids that are mixed up in this.”

Sometimes kids are forced into labor of one kind or another, but many times they are caught in sex trafficking circles.

West Virginia Fusion Center and Polaris

Kirk’s intelligence agency, the West Virginia Fusion Center, gathers, analyzes and shares information related to any kind of criminal activity. To help bring awareness to the growing human trafficking issue in West Virginia, the Fusion Center organized a workshop in Morgantown. First responders, social workers, educators and law enforcement agents were invited. About eighty were in attendance.

Lara Powers is a program specialist with the DC-based, anti-human trafficking nonprofit called Polaris. She was the main speaker at the Morgantown event.   

Powers says three kinds of trafficking networks are prevalent:

  • Interfamilial trafficking: parents trafficking children, or a husband trafficking a wife
  • Pimp-controlled sex trafficking: one controller is controlling one or multiple women and forcing them to engage in commercial sex
  • Residential brothels

Both Kirk and Powers are hoping that increasing awareness among law enforcement agents will help those kids and anyone else stuck in a trafficking network in West Virginia be more likely to find a way out.

WV Fusion Center: 1-866-WV-Watch

Polaris: 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233733). 

Hotline Call Specialists are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to take reports from anywhere in the country related to potential trafficking victims, suspicious behaviors, and/or locations where trafficking is suspected to occur. All reports are confidential. Interpreters are available.

Check out this human price list:

So, how many slaves work for you?