January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month

Human Trafficking is real, and unfortunately it’s an issue that greatly impacts our Hampton Roads community. This month, Samaritan House wants to empower you to be better equipped with knowledge: what it is, where it’s happening, and how to be an advocate for ending it.

We believe people are not for sale, and that trafficking individuals is one of the most heinous crimes that exists. In January of 2017, Attorney General of Virginia Mark R. Herring, Samaritan House, and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) teamed up with local law enforcement to create the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force. Samaritan House is the leading service provider for housing and services for victims of trafficking in our region within this task force.

To give you an idea of how big the problem of human trafficking is in Southeast Virginia, in 2017 the task force initially anticipated that it would rescue and serve 10-12 victims of trafficking each year. Since its inception, in just three years, we have provided support services and housing to 125 victims. Of these, 90 percent are American citizens, and the majority of our clients have escaped from the world of sex trafficking.

Trafficking is a crime that exists for several purposes: forced labor services and sexual acts, sexual exploitation, and domestic servitude.

There are many misconceptions about what trafficking is, who the victims are, and how big of an issue human trafficking really is.

Every January, we are on a mission to spread awareness and bring those who are hiding in plain sight out of the shadows. We will be sharing stories that paint a picture of this issue, dispel myths, help identify red flags, and share how to report suspected instances of trafficking. You can follow along on Facebook and Instagram.

What is Human Trafficking?

We can learn a lot about what human trafficking is by breaking down some of the myths and misconceptions that are actually false.

MYTH 1: Trafficking means transporting someone across state or country lines.

Reality: Not necessarily. Trafficking can certainly include instances of transporting individuals, but isn’t required to be considered trafficking. People often confuse smuggling (illegal transporting) with trafficking (exploitation through force, fraud or coercion).

MYTH 2: “Human trafficking, oh like the movie Taken?”

Reality: While Taken paints a picture of what trafficking can look like, this example is not the norm. Liam Neeson rushing to his kidnapped daughter’s aid and crusading against a high-profile, international sex trade operation fits within Hollywood’s definition, but poses a problem when comparing it to more common scenarios. “No one went looking for me because I didn’t go missing,” is a phrase that’s become more representative of trafficking victims. We called this campaign “Hidden in Plain Sight” because this is an issue happening from small-town USA to large port cities like ours, and both victims and perpetrators can appear as average citizens.

Okay, so what does trafficking look like?

The youngest victim of trafficking Samaritan House has assisted is 14-years-old. Samaritan House serves all victims of trafficking, but the majority of our clients are women, between the ages of 18-23 years old.

Pimps will generally target a girl playing off her low self esteem or need for attention, posing as a loving, doting boyfriend, showering her with affection and pretty things. This is called the grooming process, and is meant to gain a victim’s trust in order to later control her. It often includes rules on how to dress, what to say, and even how to act with a John (ex: being forced to watch pornography).

It is much harder to walk away from a person you believe truly cared for you – not unlike the psychology that prevents many victims of domestic violence from walking away from their abusers.

MYTH 3: Victims are often foreign nationals.

Reality: Trafficking in America is by no means limited to individuals who are citizens of other countries. In fact, 90 percent of Samaritan House human trafficking clients served thus far are American citizens. Movies and television shows have played up the image of a trafficking victim being smuggled into the U.S. from a distant land, and this certainly does happen. But an alarming number of trafficking cases include traffickers and/or victims who are U.S. citizens. In 2014, the Urban Institute conducted a study on the underground commercial sex trade in eight U.S. cities and estimated that this illegal activity generated between $39.9 million and $290 million in revenue depending on the city. The study also revealed that pimps in one city earned an average of $32,833 per week. Trafficking people is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world.

MYTH 4: Human trafficking only occurs in illegal underground industries.

Reality: Trafficking can occur in legal and legitimate business settings as well as underground markets. Human trafficking has been reported in business markets such as restaurants, hotels, and manufacturing plants, as well as underground markets such as commercial sex in illegal residential brothels and street based commercial sex.

MYTH 5: Prostitution is a victimless crime.

Reality: Prostitution is not a victimless crime. Many women across the globe do find the commercial sex industry to be empowering, and enter into the job willingly. That is not to say they are free of violence because it is a choice. This assumption also leaves out that more often than not, a pimp or trafficker is hiding behind the scenes, calling the shots. Some women begin working independently as sex workers, then ultimately wind up working under a pimp who becomes their trafficker. This person controls aspects of the client’s life. From when and what they can eat, what they wear, and the number of Johns they serve each day. In addition to this, all money made is seized by the trafficker, leaving nothing for the victim. Breaking this cycle becomes problematic, as prostitution itself is a crime. In the rare opportunity that a victim is able to escape, who can they turn to for help? Whether an individual prostitutes by choice or is trafficked, it is more likely that they will be viewed as a criminal instead of a victim.

MYTH 6: All human trafficking cases involve sexual exploitation.

Reality: Sex trafficking is just one of the types of human trafficking, and we must expand the understanding of the definition of trafficking to include these other types. Forced labor and domestic servitude are also very prevalent in the global trafficking industry, as well as in the United States. Labor traffickers often make false promises of a high-paying job or compelling education or travel opportunities to lure people into despicable working conditions. Soon enough, victims discover the reality of their jobs are far different than promised. They work long hours for little to no pay. Laws protecting fair labor are disregarded. Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline, operated by Polaris, received reports of more than 5,400 labor trafficking cases inside the United States.

What Should I do if I Suspect Trafficking?

Call 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2423) to report suspicious criminal activity to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). This Tip Line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year. The Tip Line is accessible outside the United States by calling 802-872-6199. You can also fill out a form to report a tip online by clicking HERE.

How Does Samaritan House Help?

Samaritan House is the leading resource in Hampton Roads currently equipped to provide comprehensive support services and housing for survivors of all forms of human trafficking in the region. Our staff works directly with individuals to stabilize and re-acclimate to normal life outside their trafficking environment. We take the approach of trauma-informed care in all that we do, which emphasizes physical, psychological and emotional safety for both clients and providers. This approach helps survivors rebuild a sense of control and empowerment in their lives through the healing process.

The model for our Anti-Trafficking program is based on a four-stage process. These stages are: Stabilize, Grow, Transition, and Take Root. The length of the program is not set, as it is driven by the progress of the individual, aided by the support of a case manager, residential coordinator, vocational specialist, and victim advocate.

You Can Help…

If you’d like to learn more about human trafficking and how Samaritan House is helping to combat this issue in our region, our staff would be happy to come speak to your business, school, church or other organization to provide dedicated training and education. Contact us to learn more.

You can also help support our work and provide the resources to continue our mission to stop the violence and exploitation of human trafficking and start the healing process for victims by making a donation in just seconds online:


Samaritan House & Hampton Roads Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force in the News

WAVY 10: “Local Investigators and nonprofit spot new trends in human trafficking” [Video]

13 News Now: “Attorney General Herring creates human trafficking task force” [Video]

WTKR: “Human trafficking victims find help at local non-profit” [Video]

U.S. Department of Homeland Security: “Federal grant funds Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force” [Article]

The Virginian Pilot: How Samaritan House became Hampton Roads’ resource for human trafficking victims

13 News Now: 13News Now announces 2018 TEGNA Foundation Community Grant Recipients for Hampton Roads [Video]

WYDaily: Human trafficking victims could see some relief with this new bill

WAVY 10: Local shelter sees uptick in victims since human trafficking task force’s formation

13 News Now: Local Human Trafficking Task Force uses billboards to raise awareness

WTKR: Governor Ralph Northam to sign bill cracking down on human trafficking

13 News Now: Nonprofits Unions Fighting Labor Trafficking in Hampton Roads

Governor Ralph Northam signs a bill into law which adds four crimes to the list of human trafficking charges that are not granted bail. This bill was proposed by Del. Mike Mullin, D-Newport News, and Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, and is a positive step toward protecting the legal rights of victims of trafficking.