Tuesday, October 3, 2023

New Bill Directs Universities to Implement Human Trafficking Awareness Training

The Virginia State Capitol on a cloudy day. (Anna Chen/VCU Capital News Service)

RICHMOND — The governor recently signed a bill that will require public higher education institutions to develop and implement a human trafficking awareness and prevention training program for first-year students to take during orientation.

Del. Emily Brewer, R-Isle of Wight, introduced House Bill 1555 which was signed into law on March 17 by Gov. Glenn Youngkin. The measure is identical to Senate Bill 1373, introduced by Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Fauquier.

Patrick McKenna, co-founder of the Virginia Coalition Against Human Trafficking, said this bill is important for first-year students entering college.

“It’s critical that they understand traffickers’ means and methods and how they go about to create vulnerability,” McKenna said.

The training will hopefully help students understand their own potential vulnerabilities and be able to see and help others that could be taken advantage of, McKenna said.

“You can’t identify if you don’t know what you’re seeing,” McKenna said. “You can’t describe what you’re seeing, potentially how you are being exploited, or being groomed to be exploited.”

The bill is pertinent due to the rise of human trafficking, Brewer said during the House Post-Secondary and Higher Education subcommittee.

Human trafficking takes place when someone forces, frauds, or coerces another person into labor or commercial sex activity. Sex trafficking accounts for most of the cases in Virginia, and the U.S. Data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline in Virginia. Infographic by Monica Alarcon-Najarro. (VCU Capital News Service)

The National Human Trafficking Hotline identified 140 cases in 2021 in Virginia, 120 cases in 2020, and 188 in 2019. The number of human trafficking victims is generally higher than the number of cases, according to statistics on the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which estimated between 150 to 300 victims every year in Virginia.

“We found this bill to be important to be able to really make sure that young people are aware of their surroundings and the effects of human trafficking signs,” Brewer said during the subcommittee.

The bill also requires the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, or SCHEV, to encourage private higher education institutions to provide the same human trafficking awareness and prevention training for students during their orientation programs.

Grace Covello Khattar is the associate for finance policy at SCHEV. The council invited all of the presidents of private colleges and staff to attend the next meeting where they will discuss training ideas, according to Covello Khattar.

“We plan to have a topic at the May council meeting as of now to really encourage our private institutions to develop and implement the same policies that our public institutions are going to be doing,” Covello Khattar said.

The preventative training is important and will hopefully help to bring exposure to the issue of human trafficking, Covello Khattar said.

“It could shed some light on some topics that they haven’t really considered before or maybe not in depth or detail that the orientation would present on,” Covello Khattar said.

The bill does not have a specific timeline for when the human trafficking prevention training must launch, but has an effective start date of July 1.

“It is enacted this summer,” Covello Khattar said. “So my understanding is that it will start this fall.”

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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