Human trafficking is often a hidden crime, but there is a push in Virginia to help bring it to light.
Legislation that passed the General Assembly this year would require information about the human trafficking hotline to be posted in certain places where victims might be.
The bill still needs to be signed into law by the governor.
Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant introduced Senate Bill 725. It would require the hotline information to be posted at each rest area in the commonwealth and at certain health care facilities. That way, possible victims or witnesses can be alerted to ways to get help and report crimes.
The 24/7 hotline number is 1-888-373-7888.
“It’s going to get human trafficking on everybody’s radar,” said Fay Chelmow.
Chelmow, a registered nurse, founded ImPACT Virginia three years ago. The non-profit focuses on preventing child trafficking.
She thinks the legislation would have a big impact.
“For victims and survivors, it’s not like you can just pass them a shoe card because they can get in trouble. Their lives are on the line if they have any kind of information that could help them to safety,” she said.
Chelmow said making the hotline information more visible is a way to educate witnesses and discretely empower victims.
She said the locations included in the bill make sense. She said interstates can be a hot spot for traffickers and that the majority of survivors said they had contact with a health care provider while they were being trafficked.
Since 2007, the national hotline has received 4,248 calls from Virginia leading to 1,025 cases.
This year, there have been 502 calls and 156 human trafficking cases reported in the commonwealth.
“Law enforcement cannot fight this crime alone. We cannot arrest our way out of this problem,” she said. “Everyone has a role to play, but it starts with prevention education.”
ImPACT Virginia is getting ready to host the first Youth Safety Summit on April 21. It’s meant for adults and children in grades 7 through 12.
Speakers include Eve Birge from the Office of Safe and Healthy Students in the U.S. Department of Education, Chesterfield County Chief of Police Jeffrey Katz and survivor Wendy Barnes.
The event is free but participants must register.