RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Sex trafficking of children has become a nationwide problem and a growing issue here in the Commonwealth.
In 2018, Virginia ranked 14th in the nation for the most reported cases of human sex trafficking. Virginia resident Tanya Gould Street, a survivor of sex trafficking, was lured into the business as a teenager. At the time, her boyfriend who was 10 years her senior convinced her to start prostituting.
“I felt looked down on. I felt degraded. I was degraded by normal society,” Gould-Street said. After two years in that world, she escaped.
Gould-Street’s story is not uncommon. Experts like Bill Woolf from the “Just Ask Prevention Project,” says communities like RVA are prime for predators. “Traffickers like to target middle-to-upper class teens. That’s because they feel like they are less educated. Their words are more naïve to the tricks of the traffickers. It’s easier for them to manipulate some who comes from a stable environment sometimes,” Woolf told 8 News.
Medical student Jessica Chaoul is a part of VCU School of Medicine’s new effort to train future doctors so they can recognize when someone might be a victim.
Chaoul told 8 News, “Then you realize that nine out of 10 victims see a physician within the last year and you realize it’s a huge issue that we are missing.” Chaoul, along with fellow student Austin Oberlin, organized a symposium that included survivor stories and workshops focused on spotting signs of trafficking.
Right now, VCU School of Medicine’s is the only medical institution in the United States providing this type of training. Survivors like Gould-Street hope other schools will follow.
“It’s important to have the platform to talk with soon-to-be medical professionals,” she said. “So, that people who would come into contact with survivors can talk to them about how to be a safe space.”