Commission Meeting Focuses on Sex Trafficking and Foster Children
RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) -
State legislators passed new laws this year to address sex trafficking in the commonwealth. Now the federal government is also stepping in to protect one of the most vulnerable groups: foster children.
Officials gathered at the General Assembly Building in Richmond on Tuesday for a meeting of the Commission on Youth. They say foster kids are at a higher risk to become victims of sex trafficking. Now the state and federal government are working to put new safeguards in place to protect them.
"We are very excited to see that both the federal and state government are making and understanding the connection between foster care and sex trafficking and that foster care children are some of the most vulnerable to sex trafficking in America,” said Richmond Justice Initiative Advocacy Director Alicia Cundiff.
Experts say children who fall into the foster care system can be more susceptible to trafficking because of a history of sexual abuse or after running away from home.
"They're really looking for a sense of family, or a strong father figure, that the pimp is then exploiting that desire and then getting them in to sex trafficking," Cundiff stated.
Virginia Delegate Chris Peace and activists in Richmond say they are glad state and local governments are doing more to stop the exploitation of children.
"It's a terrible, terrible practice, a terrible enterprise, often underground," Peace said. "Virginia is not immune to that problem.”
Crime leaders are figuring out how to implement new federal rules aimed at securing the foster care system. Over the next couple of years, Virginia will need to make system-wide technology upgrades to develop more accurate and up-to-date statistics involving endangered children. The federal government will also require Virginia and other states to redefine the foster parent role and help children feel more comfortable in new homes.
"We want to remove the stigma for a child in foster care, they're already dealing with a lot as it is," Del. Peace said.
A meeting at the White House at the end of this month will further define new federal rules. A Department of Social Services representative says we will have a clearer picture by then of what Virginia will need to do beyond largely it advances.
With the latest legislative session Virginia also approved stricter penalties and passed a stand-alone statute to counter trafficking.
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