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WV Lawmakers Address Modern-Day Slavery, Human Trafficking

January 30, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Perhaps partly because the problem has not been visible in West Virginia, it is one of only two states without a specific law against human trafficking, where people are forced into prostitution or hard labor against their will. A bill now before the State Legislature would change that.

Kanawha County Delegate Bonnie Brown is the lead sponsor of the measure, House Bill 40-53. She says human trafficking is a growing problem in northern Virginia, and is starting to show up in West Virginia, as well, as evidenced by phone calls to authorities and crisis centers.

"Although it's not a huge issue in West Virginia, it is emerging, as more of these calls are being processed."

According to the national anti-slavery group Polaris Project, sexual violence is often part of the picture, even when the victims are not forced into prostitution.

James Dold, policy counsel for that group, told the House Judiciary Committee about a recent case from Pennsylvania.

"Foreign laborers were brought in to clean commercial stores at late hours. One of the methods of coercion that was used was that one of the women was repeatedly raped, to make sure that she was continuing to do her job."

The Polaris Project hotline reports nearly thirty calls from West Virginia, and the group says the U.S. Justice Department has investigated at least one case here. Bonnie Brown says victims have also been contacting the state's rape crisis centers.

"They get some of these calls, and domestic violence centers are starting to get calls, from people who are, either in a situation or reporting a situation."

Human trafficking victims are often women or children, and are often, though not always, from other countries. Many are forced into the sex trade.

The House Judiciary Committee is drafting a narrow addition to the current law against kidnapping. Brown says none of her colleagues have expressed opposition.

The Polaris hotline number is 888-3737-888.

More on Polaris Project is at

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV