RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Governor Ralph Northam signed into law on Monday a measure that makes it harder for defendants facing charges for human trafficking to be released on bond.
According to a 2017 report from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Virginia ranked 15th in the U.S. for the most reported cases of human trafficking. Richmond ranked ninth in the country with the highest number of calls to the hotline per capita.
“I see so many survivors that come in that are scared,” said Shelly Brown, an advocate and volunteer with ImPACT Virginia.
She sees the pain of survivors of human sex trafficking first hand at work. She’s a forensic nurse examiner at a local E.R. Brown says the type of injuries she sees are “indescribable.”
Survivors of all ages come to the hospital, worried about their pimps finding them. Some are too scared to even file a police report about the abuse they’ve experienced.
“Who don’t want to have evidence collection done, who don’t want to cooperate with the police because they’re scared of once they’re released from the hospital of being found,” she explained.
The Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney for Henrico County Michael Feinmel says his office sees the same problem. In a statement, he explained that they have “seen many instances of sex traffickers while on bond making efforts to intimidate women who were previously under their control as a means of preventing testimony against them.”
He went on to explain that, “While all defendants are afforded a presumption of innocence before trial, it is important that the safety of victims of this insidious criminal behavior are protected.”
The new law, SB 1206, makes it harder for defendants facing charges for human trafficking to be released on bail bond. Feinmel says it adds more protections for victims since it’ll be harder for an accused trafficker to be released onto the streets.
“The new presumption against bail will at least give the Commonwealth time to properly investigate the sex trafficking defendant’s living situation as well as hopefully provide the Commonwealth with an opportunity to secure a safe place for the victim to go prior to the defendant’s being released if the judge decides that the presumption against bond has been overcome,” Feinmel said in a statement.
While advocates like Brown are pleased with the move, she says more work needs to be done to stop the buyers involved.
“You think about the market and the buyers if you don’t have buyers for sex trafficking, then you don’t have the prevalence of this horrible, horrible crime,” she said.
Another law going into effect July 1st requires trafficking hotline information to be put up in all rest stops and some healthcare facilities across the Commonwealth.
The 24/7 hotline number is 1-888-373-7888.