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FEDERAL GRANT TO HELP LAUNCH HUMAN TRAFFICKING TASK FORCE IN HAMPTON ROADS
~ $1.45 million federal grant will support a multidisciplinary team to handle all aspects of a human trafficking case from identification, to support services, to prosecution of traffickers ~
VIRGINIA BEACH (November 2, 2016)-Attorney General Mark R. Herring, Virginia Beach anti-human trafficking non-profit Samaritan House, and ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) announced today that they have secured a $1.45 million federal grant to establish and operate a Human Trafficking Task Force in Hampton Roads in conjunction with state, local, and federal law enforcement partners and victim support service providers. The grant will support the creation and operation of a multidisciplinary task force to fight human trafficking in Hampton Roads by identifying, rescuing, and restoring victims, building awareness about the realities of human trafficking in the region and across Virginia, and by investigating and prosecuting trafficking crimes.
"Human trafficking is a dehumanizing crime that calls for a comprehensive response in order to restore victims to safety and well-being and hold traffickers accountable," said Attorney General Herring. "This coordinated, victim-centered approach is going to make a huge difference in the lives of victims that are identified in Hampton Roads, and it's going to send an unmistakable signal that Virginia will not tolerate human trafficking. I'm proud that we've been able to bring some new tools to the fight, but we're not going to let up because we know there are still people out there looking for a lifeline to help them break free."
As part of the new Task Force, Attorney General Herring, Samaritan House, HSI and other partners including the police departments and commonwealth's attorneys of Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Hampton, and Newport News will work together on active trafficking cases in a comprehensive, multidisciplinary way, with Samaritan House servicing victim needs and the Attorney General's Office and HSI providing a vital link to law enforcement resources. The Task Force's collaboration will bring a victim-centered approach to the fight against the trafficking of persons, and will strengthen ties between victim services, law enforcement and the community in order to identify victims and provide the support they needed as they recover.
"Human trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes HSI investigates. People are treated as commodities, making this crime akin to modern day slavery" said Michael K. Lamonea, assistant special agent in charge of HSI Norfolk. "We look forward to working with our law enforcement and community partners to eradicate human trafficking in Hampton Roads."
The new federal grant funding for the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force comes from the U.S. Department of Justice and will support:
- Hiring a Hampton Roads Anti-Human Trafficking Coordinator in the OAG
- A new victim services coordinator, a case manager, and three on-site counselors at Samaritan House
- Expanded bed space for Samaritan House to provide victims of human trafficking a safe and supportive place for them and their children to get back on their feet.
- The costs incurred by law enforcement agencies while investigating a potential human trafficking case.
"Samaritan House is thrilled to be working with the Attorney General's office in combating human trafficking," said Robin Gauthier, Executive Director of Samaritan House. "The average age a teen enters sex trafficking in the United States is 12-14, so this could be one of your family members or mine."
The Task Force grant proposal earned the support of a diverse set of partners, including the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration, the FBI, the Department of Labor, and the Commonwealth's Attorneys and police chiefs of several Hampton Roads cities.
Experts believe that Virginia's central location along major interstate corridors and its international points of connection make it vulnerable to trafficking activity. Through June 30, 2016, Virginia has had the 13th most cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline. This year the hotline has received 339 calls reporting 73 cases of human trafficking in Virginia, the majority of which have been for women forced into sex work against their will. In 2015, the hotline received 624 calls referencing 145 cases of human trafficking from Virginia.
To combat human trafficking in Virginia, Attorney General Herring has offered additional training to law enforcement, worked on legislation to provide prosecutors and law enforcement with additional tools, and launched a statewide public awareness campaign including an award-winning and ground-breaking online component to target those involved in human trafficking with ads in English, Spanish, Korean, and Vietnamese. This summer, he announced a new partnership with the Department of Homeland Security's Blue Campaign to provide communities and local law enforcement agencies with additional resources and training to combat human trafficking in Virginia.
Since 1984, Samaritan House has provided emergency housing, transitional housing, and community outreach to victims of domestic violence and homeless families in Hampton Roads. Samaritan House is committed to fostering personal safety, growth and self-sufficiency in adults and their children through the freedom from sexual and domestic violence and homelessness.
HSI is the critical investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security and is a vital U.S. asset in combating criminal organizations illegally exploiting America's travel, trade, financial and immigration systems. HSI has broad legal authority to enforce a diverse array of federal statutes, including human trafficking and smuggling, financial crimes like bulk cash smuggling, cybercrimes, document and benefit fraud, weapons and narcotics smuggling, art and antiquities theft, and export enforcement.
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