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Human trafficking is on the minds of Virginia lawmakers, as evidenced by two bills that have been unanimously passed by the House of Delegates and are on their way to the Senate.
Virginia was awarded a $1.45 million federal grant to combat and prosecute human trafficking in November 2016. According to Attorney General Mark Herring, human trafficking is estimated to be a $150 billion global industry with 20 million victims.
One year ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted a nationwide human trafficking sting that exposed more than 150 pimps — 12 of whom were from Hampton Roads.
In 2016 alone, more than 145 cases of human trafficking were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, with 105 of those cases labeled as sex trafficking. The number of reported cases has risen nearly 60 percent since 2012 when the trafficking crimes were first recorded by the organization.
The first bill — HB 2282 — was proposed by Del. James A. “Jay” Leftwich, R-Chesapeake, and is supported by the Virginia Beach Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization devoted to battling human trafficking in Hampton Roads.
If passed, HB 2282 would require state school boards to train guidance counselors and school nurses on how to prevent the trafficking of children using materials provided by the Board of Education and Social Services.
Justice Initiative Director Patrick McKenna said the bill is important because the target population for the trafficking of children is 11-18 years old.
“Students need to be alerted to how they are being victimized and how a pimp works,” McKenna said. “We need people who are going to be around them the most to know the signs of human trafficking.”
HB 2282 was passed unanimously by the House of Delegates on Feb. 2. The next day, it went to the Senate Committee on Education and Health, where it is expected to be heard on Thursday morning.
The second bill — HB 2217 — proposed by Del. David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, has been championed by Herring and is also supported by the Justice Initiative.
The bill would allow victims of sexual violence and human trafficking to participate in the state’s confidentiality program. Under current law, the program allows domestic violence and stalking victims who have been relocated to keep their new address confidential.
HB 2217 was passed unanimously by the Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday. It was referred to the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology on Wednesday and is expected to be discussed on Monday during session.
This article was published in partnership with WYDaily’s sister publication, SouthsideDaily.com.