RICHMOND, Va. — Working between different agencies to tackle human trafficking across Virginia can be difficult at times because of access to different resources in different regions. So, the General Assembly signed off on a new state job this year to evaluate and coordinate efforts to report these crimes and to educate others on how to spot cases to help survivors.
Angella Alvernaz was hired in August to be Virginia’s first State Trafficking Response Coordinator, with the Dept. of Criminal Justice Services. She used to oversee child trafficking cases in Prince William County Public Schools. Before that, Alvernaz was with the Tampa Police Department in Florida, working prostitution and narcotics cases.
Seeing the cycle of trafficking and abuse from all ages has opened her eyes to see what victims go through.
“Why they stay in the situations that they’re in,” Alvernaz explained. “Why it’s difficult for them to get out or to leave that situation.”
While introducing herself to a room of people focused on child safety laws Thursday, Alvernaz explained some of the challenges she sees across the state, including issues with reporting.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 198 human trafficking cases were reported in Virginia in 2018. The Dept. of Social Services has been working on six cases in July involving trafficked children.
During the meeting, Alvernaz pointed out that the figure may be higher.
“The victims are coming in through a variety of agencies. And each agency is reporting their data in different ways,” she explained. “Some are not keeping track of their data at all.”
As part of the job, Alvernaz has traveled throughout the state to meet with schools, law enforcement, hospitals and other service providers to give out how to “tailor” resources for those unique areas’ needs.
One of the main projects is to create a statewide data reporting system to track cases. Alvernaz is also compiling a list of service providers that have received special training to care for victims.
These are just a few of the long list of projects and initiatives this new job is trying to accomplish. While it might not all get done in a year, Alvernaz and others are hopeful that more steps will be taken to better coordinate efforts to get trafficking victims the support they need.
Alvernaz says she loves helping these people to “have a healthier life for themselves and their families.”
The State Trafficking Response Coordinator position was created at the recommendation of the Virginia State Crime Commission. The coordinator will give an annual report to the General Assembly and governor on what’s being done in Virginia and what could be improved.