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Human Trafficking in VA – Two Bills Target Those who Solicit Minors

Richmond Justice Initiative works to end Human Trafficking.
Richmond Justice Initiative works to end Human Trafficking.
January 31, 2013

RICHMOND, Va. - It's a $37 billion industry in the United States - the buying and selling of people for profit. Also known as human trafficking, it's happening here in Virginia.

Human trafficking can involve people who are forced into labor situations, as well as men, women and children who are trapped as slaves in the sex trade, according to Sara Pomeroy, founder of The Richmond Justice Initiative. The sex trade is the most common form of human trafficking in the state, she said, and is especially prevalent in northern Virginia where it is operated mostly by large, organized gangs who prey on young girls.

"They are basically identifying girls between the ages of 12 and 14 years old," she said, "and they are very good at identifying their vulnerability and then exploiting it."

One way to help combat young girls being trafficked for sex is to go to where the demand is - the men who are buying it and fueling the industry, Pomeroy said. Legislation being considered by the General Assembly - HB 1606 and SB 1015 - would increase the penalty for those who solicit minors from a Class 1 misdemeanor to class 5 and 6 felonies.

Pomeroy said pimps and traffickers prey on girls at schools, on Facebook and at malls. The targets, she said, often are girls who are lonely and insecure with fractured families and unstable home lives.

"Right now, there is a large demand for young girls," she said, "and so they're just doing their job and they're providing to the men who want to buy the girls, the property."

A recent Harvard University study found that when asked what would deter men who solicit minors for sex, all men polled said that increasing the punishment to include a minimum of one month in jail along with a fine would stop them. If the demand for sex with minors decreases, Pomeroy said, those who sell it will move to something else more profitable.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - VA