In the United States, January has been designated as Human Trafficking Awareness month. Human trafficking is modern day slavery. It is a serious crime and a violation of human rights. It involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year millions of men, women, and children are trafficked globally, including in the U.S. and even in our community. Often victims do not get help, for a number of reasons, including language barriers and fear of their trafficker.
In 2015 the Combat Human Trafficking Act was passed (34 U.S.C. §. 20709(e)). As a result of that act, the Department of Justice is required to measure and analyze the nationwide incidence of human trafficking, to describe characteristics of the victims and offenders and describe criminal justice responses to the offenses. Human trafficking is a growing problem. According to the DOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics, as of fiscal year 2020 there had been a 62% increase in human trafficking offices since 2011. During that same time, the number of persons prosecuted for human trafficking increased 84%.
Human trafficking is often considered a hidden crime. Many in the U.S. have the common misconception that it does not happen here. This is untrue. Sadly, the U.S. is ranked as one of the worst countries globally for human trafficking. In 2022, Shared Hope International, a nonprofit organization that tracks state laws related to and impacting child and youth sex trafficking, gave the Commonwealth of Virginia an “F” – the lowest possible grade – when it comes to laws protecting children from sex trafficking and providing victims with justice.
It is with this data in mind and in recognition of Human Trafficking Awareness month that the Alexandria Commission for Women will be hosting a panel discussion to help our community understand what human trafficking is, how to recognize it and ways in which to help in our community and beyond.
The Alexandria Commission for Women was created in the mid1970s to eliminate gender discrimination and encourage equal opportunity for women in all aspects of their lives. Today the commission’s members continue to provide advice and consultation to City Council on issues concerning women. One of those issues is human trafficking.
On Jan. 23, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. the Commission for Women will host an event at the Lee Center Auditorium, located at 1108 Jefferson St. Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson will kick off the event with opening remarks. There will be an expert panel including representatives from: the Virginia State Police, Stehanie Reyes; a mental health clinician with Trauma and Hope, Brandu Bynum; Program Manager for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign; a national human traffic public awareness program; and Angella Alvernaz, State Trafficking Response Coordinator, Office of the Director, Virginia Department of Criminal Justices Services.
Following the panel discussion, there will be an open forum for Q&A. Please consider attending to learn more about the issue and what you can do to recognize and stop it.
The writer is a commissioner on the Alexandria Commission for Women.