Last in a three-part series on human trafficking in our region
By Wallicia Gill:
Every high school in Fairfax County had at least one case of human trafficking in 2018, while in the county as a whole more than 250 victims were identified, one third of them children. These sobering statistics came from two human trafficking experts speaking at a recent meeting of the Women’s Rights Committee of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee. But the speakers also reported some good news: six pieces of anti-trafficking legislation passed in the Virginia General Assembly earlier this year, including strengthening the role of Child Protective Services.
The Women’s Right Committee, chaired by Holly Hazard, sponsored a Zoom call for members and others on April 5 featuring Alison Kiehl Friedman, executive director of International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, and Erin Fischer, director of community engagement at Just Ask Prevention. Ms. Fischer said that 27 cases of human trafficking were reported in Fairfax County in 2018 — 19 for sex trafficking, the others for labor trafficking — involving 252 victims, of which about one-third were children. She added that legislation just passed in Richmond will allow Child Protective Services, part of the state Dept. of Social Services, to start the process of protecting children before the police become involved. Child Protective Services (CPS) professionals often see and observe family dynamics. CPS workers can interview a child without the parent present if they are suspicious that a child might be a victim of trafficking. Another new law, she said, broadens the definition of human trafficking to include victims of the forced labor trade.
The International Labor Organization reports 25 million people worldwide are modern day slaves, unwilling participants in a $150 billion industry. While most are children and women working in the commercial sex industry, many are forced laborers in global supply chains, including coffee, the shrimping industry in Southeast Asia, clothing, and electronics. Ms. Friedman was instrumental in launching a website, Slaveryfootprint.org that allows consumers to understand how certain products contribute to modern day slavery.
Children and women often work in horrible conditions to supply these products in India, the Amazon, and other parts of the world – including the USA, where the trafficking trade is estimated at $35 billion annually. The speakers gave examples of human trafficking and exploitation of women and children—including rapes and assaults—on sheep farms in Idaho, ice cream parlors in New Jersey, hair braiding salons in Florida, and even an exploited domestic worker in Falls Church, Virginia. The speakers noted that Texas receives 25% of all US hotline calls on human trafficking – partly because Texas law requires liquor stores to publicly post the human trafficking hotline number — (888) 373 7888.
Simple laws like this one, as well as training teachers, social workers, and health care providers to spot victims of human trafficking could significantly reduce these crimes. In fact, according to the speakers, education is a key to stopping exploitation of women and children. When community members know what to look for, reporting is more likely. “Just Ask” provides a website that offers information to parents and community members. “Just Ask” also developed and provided a Trafficking Prevention Curriculum included in Family Life Education for schools.
Survivors of human trafficking need support gaining employment and health care, noted the speakers. Pity and charity are not helpful—jobs and inclusion are. Many people believe that trafficking survivors typically have access to healthcare and are able to gain needed services, but this is not the reality. Ms. Friedman is willing to connect individuals wishing to offer human trafficking survivors employment. She can be reached at Alison@icar.ngo. Countrywide, a major resource to help trafficking victims and survivors, and to report potential cases, is the National Human Trafficking Hotline – (888) 373 7888. This is a 24-hour a day, confidential service.
Dr. Wallicia Gill is a retired middle school principal, adjunct professor at Shenandoah University, and member of Sully District Democratic Committee. She is also a member of the Board of Directors at Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation.