In just four years, Virginia has made huge progress in fighting human trafficking. The Polaris Project says the commonwealth is now one of the best in the country at fighting modern-day slavery.
The Polaris Project began ranking states back in 2010 on their efforts to fight human trafficking, punish traffickers, and support survivors. And four years ago, Virginia was at the bottom of the list.
Flash forward to 2013, and the Polaris Project says the commonwealth is now one of the states leading the charge to stop forced human exploitation.
From defining the term "human trafficking" in the Virginia code to raising awareness across the state, lawmakers have enacted a series of laws to fight the problem. But Governor Bob McDonnell says more still needs to be done.
"So I'm really emboldened with what we've been able but I think we, there's more we need to do for victim identification, just raising awareness. I mean everybody from police to educators. And then services to victims," McDonnell said.
Earlier this week, the Virginia State Crime Commission began work on a series of measures to continue fighting human trafficking. The governor also announced Thursday the first Governor's Summit on Human Trafficking, which will focus on helping victims and educating others about the issue. The summit is scheduled for October 3 in Richmond.
Office of Governor Bob McDonnell
Virginia Moves to Top of Polaris Project 2013 Anti-Human Trafficking State Rankings
Coalition groups thank Governor McDonnell and legislators for bipartisan work to punish human traffickers and support victims
At Event, Governor Announces First Governor's Summit on Human Trafficking, October 3rd and 4th in Richmond
RICHMOND – Governor Bob McDonnell today recognized the strides that Virginia has made on the fight against human trafficking during an afternoon event with the Richmond Justice Initiative. The 2013 Polaris Project State Rankings moved Virginia into the top category (Tier 1) for efforts in fighting human trafficking, up from the lowest category (Tier 4) in 2010. The Richmond Justice Initiative presented Governor McDonnell and legislators with a cake to recognize and thank them for their ongoing bipartisan work to combat human trafficking in Virginia.
During the event, Governor McDonnell also announced the first Governor's Summit on Human Trafficking, which will be held October 3rd and 4th at the Omni Richmond Hotel. The Summit will address victim identification, victim assistance and public outreach and education. For more information please visit https://www.dcjs.virginia.gov/trainingevents/victims/htsummit/.
2013 marks the fourth year that the Polaris Project, a national advocacy organization focused on human trafficking, has graded all 50 states and the District of Columbia, ranking them in one of four tiers. The ranking is based on ten categories of laws critical to establishing a basic legal framework to combat human trafficking, punish traffickers, and support survivors.
"Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world. The objectification and exploitation of other humans for financial gain is deplorable and as elected officials, we must do all we can to bring justice to anyone who engages in or supports human trafficking. Equally as important, we must work together to heal the deep and complex wounds that victims experience," stated Governor McDonnell. "I'm pleased with the progress that Virginia has made by enacting tougher legislation and hope the education and advocacy aspects of the human trafficking effort continue to gain support from all concerned Virginians."
Secretary of Public Safety Marla Decker added, "Human trafficking is an especially heinous crime and has life-long, tragic and unconscionable effects on the victims. The legislative measures that have recently passed in Virginia and the efforts of law enforcement and prosecutors across the state make it clear to these criminals that there is no place in our Commonwealth for human trafficking, that we will stand up for victims, and that we will pursue those who have committed this offense with the full force of the law."
Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly stated, "Human trafficking is a complex crime involving financially motivated criminals, victims with troubled backgrounds, and clients who fuel the demand side of this appalling enterprise. Traffickers often prey on our most vulnerable citizens – runaway youths, foster children, and kids without a strong sense of identity – in order to make a profit. We are fortunate in Virginia to have elected officials who pass laws to protect these victims and seek to bring the healing they so desperately need."
"We are grateful, encouraged and inspired by the support and passion that has come from Governor McDonnell, his administration and the legislators who championed these bills," said Sara Pomeroy, Founder and Director of the Richmond Justice Initiative. "That support combined with the fight for justice from everyday citizens is the reason that, in just 3 years, Virginia has moved from being one of the worst, to one of the best states in the country when it comes to combating slavery and trafficking."
"Polaris Project applauds the strides Virginia has made to strengthen its anti-trafficking laws over the past several years, which placed the Commonwealth into the top, tier one category in our 2013 State Ratings on Human Trafficking Laws," said Bradley Myles, CEO of Polaris Project.
"Moving forward, we must continue our work to provide tools to state agencies so they can protect survivors and help them reclaim their freedom, as well as the resources prosecutors and law enforcement require to stop traffickers in Virginia."
The following bills passed the General Assembly and were signed into law by Governor McDonnell during his administration, contributing to the change in rankings:
· SB 1453 (Senator Newman – Lynchburg): added the term "human trafficking" into the Code of Virginia and directed the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General, to "advise law-enforcement agencies and attorneys for the Commonwealth regarding the identification, investigation, and prosecution of human trafficking offenses using the common law and existing criminal statutes in the Code of Virginia." (2011)
· HB 2190 (Delegate Ebbin – Arlington) directed the Virginia Department of Social Services to develop a plan for the delivery of services to victims of human trafficking. (2011)
· HB 1188 / SB 259 (Delegate Watts – Fairfax; Senator Ebbin – Arlington) required the Board of Education, in collaboration with the Department of Social Services, to provide awareness and training materials for local school division staff on human trafficking, including strategies for the prevention of trafficking children. (2012)
· HB 2061 (2013) (Delegate Bulova – Fairfax) required operators of certain specified businesses, including truck stops, to post notice of the existence of a human trafficking hotline to alert potential victims of the availability of assistance. Senator Obenshain carried the Senate companion bill to HB 2061.
· HB 1606/SB 1015 (Delegate Hugo – Clifton; Senator Howell – Fairfax) enhanced the penalty for solicitation of a minor for prostitution. Both bills came from the recognition that prostitution involving minors and adults are undeniably linked to human trafficking and that there are also links between prostitution, gangs and human trafficking. (2013)
· HB 1826 (Delegate Villanueva – Virginia Beach) allowed law enforcement officers to be sent beyond their jurisdictions' limits whenever it becomes necessary to enforce abduction laws. (2013)
· HB 1870 (Delegate Rob Bell – Charlottesville) allowed a multi-jurisdiction grand jury to investigate an offense of receiving money for procuring a person. This will facilitate investigation of human trafficking activities. (2013)
· HB 1200 (Delegate Bulova – Fairfax) requires operators of strip clubs to post notice of the telephone number of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline. (2012)
· HB 546 (Delegate Comstock – Fairfax) includes within the definition of "predicate criminal act" the offenses of the taking or detaining of any person into a place for the purpose of prostitution and the receiving of money from earnings of any person engaged in prostitution. (2012)