Human Trafficking: Under the Cover of Darkness

Brynn Feighery, Assistant Opinions Editor

You may think that human trafficking is not a major concern in the success-filled area of northern Virginia that we live in, but statistics say otherwise. Virginia as a whole is ranked fifth in the nation for number of calls reporting instances of human trafficking. More specifically, the most calls in Virginia come from northern Virginia. The place we call home. However, Fairfax County is a national leader in uncovering gang related trafficking. According to Detective Bill Woolf, FCPD Human Trafficking Unit, in the past year, 156 leads have been reported: 108 victims have been recovered and 261 victims have been identified.

 

January was recently named National Human Trafficking Month. And although many in Fairfax County see this as irrelevant, it is becoming an increasingly prominent issue. While living in northern Virginia, it is easy to get wrapped up in the craze of attending school, working one maybe two jobs, and joining any possible activity you can to help pave the way for a successful future. In addition to school and work chaos of Northern Virginia, something else needs to be added to the radar of our community members.

 

Human trafficking has always existed, but among naive residents of northern Virginia, it has remained behind the scenes until now. An organization called “Just Ask”, which aims aims to highlight the growing concern of human trafficking in the Northern Virginia area, has launched a website in the past few months and has public speakers informing community members about the growing concern of  trafficking in Fairfax County.

 

“The most important thing is for people to be able to recognize that human trafficking is an issue, to understand what it really is and to take initiative to educate themselves and their community further,” Fairfax County Detective Bill Woolf said.

 

Human traffickers are sly about recruiting their victims, they take their time in gaining their victims’ trust and make sure they can string them along. According to information from Detective Bill Woolf and the “Just Ask” website, “recruitment” into the human trafficking industry on average begins at the ages between 12-14. Of roughly one to three thousand victims, 44% of cases are juveniles involved in commercial sex. The majority of victims are females between the ages of 15 and 17 and only a small percentage of victims are male. The majority of suspects are men in their early 20s. Traffickers are most likely to target their victims during this vulnerable age when teens are first introduced to social media. Traffickers will try to gain trust in their victims and build friendships via gifts and promises of love.

 

Another misconception is that human traffickers only victimize teenaged girls. This is not necessarily true. Traffickers generally do not have demographic requirements, gender requirements or a target socioeconomic group. Traffickers tend to target an emotionally susceptible person. They look for victims who are unmonitored on social media or  appear to lack self confidence. More specifically, they find those who seem very vulnerable and unhappy with some things in their lives. Traffickers observe and are attracted to those who exhibit shy, conservative body language and those who post on social media as almost a cry for help.

 

Traffickers can be very deceiving. They take their time when recruiting victims. According to a former human trafficker, there are several phases to finding victims.

 

“I build their self-esteem through compliments and listening to them. I act as if we’re dating and say ‘I love you.’ I give her money, gifts, alcohol and drugs to get her hooked on our relationship,” former human trafficker interviewed by the “Just Ask” campaign said.

 

First is the recruiting phase. During this time, traffickers lurk around public places, like malls, observing the body language and how their potential victims interact with others. They may approach their victims and shower them with compliments and gain their trust. Or if traffickers take an online approach, they seek victims who post cries for help or complaints about their life. Then they begin a relationship via messaging on social media or via text messages. Traffickers further manipulate their potential victims by sending gifts or the promise of love.

 

Human trafficking is a tricky subject because it is so hard to detect. The signs of human trafficking are intangible in comparison to a gun or drugs that somebody may have in their possession. The best thing we can do as a society is stay educated.

 

“For more information, I would  recommend that [citizens] read the NOVA Human Trafficking Initiative’s website (www.novahti.com) and follow them on social media,” Chantilly School Resource Officer Richard Barron said.

 

For the time being, teens should take extra caution for both themselves and their friends. Take caution when posting on social media accounts or going out  to avoid situations that can put oneself in a bad situation. Likewise, teens should be on the look out for signs of their peers who may unknowingly enter a similar situation.

 

For more information go to http://justaskva.org/about/  or contact the organization via email at FCPDHumanTrafficking@fairfaxcounty.gov or via phone at (703) 246-4006.