The case of a 21-year-old woman who contacted the Virginia Beach Justice Initiative is typical of many of the low profile human sex trafficking cases seen in Hampton Roads.
The girl was just 17 when she was kicked out of her home in Northern Virginia following an argument with her mother.
“She was just out on her own and was approached and told she could make money,” said Mickey Worthing, a trauma counselor with the Virginia Beach Justice Initiative.
Worthing, who attended a recent forum in Virginia Beach to raise awareness about human trafficking, told the Beacon about the girl’s case, describing it as typical of human trafficking in Hampton Roads.
After a few months of working as a prostitute in Norfolk, the young woman decided she wanted out, Worthing said.
She was pregnant and the Justice Initiative helped her get an apartment and to prepare for the baby.
But in recent months she hasn’t been returning calls.
“It’s similar to domestic violence: Even when you help them out a lot of times they go back,” Worthing said. “We don’t know if she’s gone back but she’s stopped answering calls.”
That was two months ago.
Worthing said younger girls ages 11 to 15 are even more vulnerable to the pimps and human traffickers who prey upon people’s natural desire to be loved, and can be left with longer lasting mental scars. Worthing describes them as “throwaway kids,” often from broken homes who have been cast aside by their parents.
The issue of human trafficking was addressed at a Crime Prevention Steering Committee forum at Thalia Lynn Baptist Church on Virginia Beach Boulevard on Tuesday. It included a showing of the film, “Sex + Money.”
Lori McKenna’s shock at finding out human trafficking was going on in Virginia Beach led her to co-found the Virginia Beach Justice Initiative. About four years ago, she watched the sex trafficking film “Call + Response” at a rally at New Life Providence Church in Virginia Beach, and was struck by scenes of child prostitutes lining up outside brothels.
The Justice Initiative was set up more than 18 months ago.
“Since that time it’s just mushroomed,” McKenna said. Now 50 organizations are interested in joining a task force in Hampton Roads.
McKenna husband, Patrick, the other driving force behind the crusade to battle sex trafficking, was the keynote speaker at the forum on Jan. 15.
“Slavery is wrong,” he said.
Local law enforcement officers are finding increasing numbers of young women who have been trafficked from other parts of the United States – such as Georgia and Pennsylvania. Most of them from 19 to 22 years old, she said.
Some were trafficked when they were teenagers. The organization is being alerted to about eight human trafficking victims every six months in Hampton Roads.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there were 2,515 suspected incidents of human trafficking in the United States between January 2008 and June 2010, involving 488 suspects and 527 victims.
Garett Trombly, a special agent with the FBI, said domestic servitude is more prevalent than human trafficking in Hampton Roads. He said it’s often very difficult for people from countries such as Mexico to escape from trafficking and domestic servitude, which can include having someone work in your household for low or no pay while under coercion and facing physical or psychological abuse.
Figures on the extent of the problem remain sketchy.
“It’s a hidden problem,” McKenna said, “so we just don’t know.”