Human trafficking in Hampton Roads remains a threat to safety

Hampton Roads is a busy and well populated metropolitan area. We can be proud of our industries, our beaches, our environment and our military presence. 

While these attributes make our home, our cities, so special, they also make it easier for one of the most heinous and hidden crimes known to occur: human trafficking. 

Human trafficking “involves the use of force, fraud, and coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act”. In Hampton Roads, the most common type is sex trafficking, as opposed to labor (farming, etc.) or domestic servitude. 

Human trafficking is often confused with the crime of human smuggling (illegally transporting people), and often does not involve crossing state lines. Despite the popular belief that only immigrants are victims of trafficking, most of the trafficking victims served by our local non-profit Samaritan House are American citizens. 

Large cities with transient populations are a breeding ground for human trafficking. Since these cities, including ours, have large segments of the population who move frequently (often the same populations who act as the clientele for the traffickers), it is easy for traffickers to make their victims blend in and move about unnoticed. 

Our cities’ house several large military bases, people who move every couple of years or so, and are busy tourist sites, increasing the amount of business for these traffickers while being able to hide their victims in “plain sight,” as is often said. 

Those being trafficked are getting younger, according to data collected by the Samaritan House. Women and girls, as young as 14 years old, are coming in as victims of trafficking, here in Hampton Roads, right under our noses. Most of those trafficked are targeted by their traffickers for various reasons, including economic hardship, need for emotional safety, and even natural disasters. 

It should be noted that this crime can, and does, happen throughout all socioeconomic classes, and can even be found being perpetrated in businesses and restaurants. Not all sex work is human trafficking. It is not just street prostitution. It is strategic, organized, and all about controlling individuals for someone else’s financial and personal gain. 

Many times, the person being trafficked does not want to leave their trafficker due to the amount of control their trafficker has over them.  It is important to remember that these individuals are being forced to work; they are exploited and worthy of compassion. 

It is estimated that there are about 24.9 million people currently being trafficked globally as of early 2020. 

The human trafficking situation, especially in places like Hampton Roads, is certainly a dire one. Organizations like the Samaritan House prove that there does exist an impetus to challenge the perpetuation of human trafficking. 

Ending human trafficking does not have a simple solution but knowing how to recognize the signs can help save a life. Here are some behaviors and descriptions to look for: 

  • Someone with suspicious injuries who gives an unspecific, dubious explanation for them
  • Any form of branding, such as a tattoo that suggests ownership (barcode, insignia)
  • Someone wearing sexually provocative clothing in inappropriate settings or weather
  • Having someone else present who makes all decisions for them
  • Signs of having been denied food, water, or other needs
  • Speech seems coached or rehearsed

Giving a little more attention to our surroundings and those we care about can go a long way in stopping the abuse and exploitation of another person. 

Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline number at 1-888-373-7888 to report suspicions of human trafficking.  

By Christian Palmisano
& Samantha Silvia