by Addie Darling
Last Wednesday, Regent University and the Protecting Children Foundation hosted The Model City Conference, a gathering on Regent’s Virginia Beach campus to discuss the growing problem of sex trafficking in the region, as well as ways individuals and organizations are working to stop it. In recent years, the $40 billion a year industry has set its sights on this 5th most-trafficked region of Virginia in order to avoid prosecution and pressure in northern Virginia, DC and Maryland.
In May 2011, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed into law a new anti-trafficking bill, joining 46 states who have enacted state-wide measures to fight sex trafficking and 48 states who have laws against labor trafficking. This is the second conference following the new legislation hosted by the University, which Pat Robertson founded and whose campus also houses the Christian Broadcasting Network, this year.
The first conference in May was covered by the IRD, and a third is scheduled for January 2013.
Here, local leaders, such as Pat and Lori McKenna shared their experience creating Samaritan House and Virginia Beach Justice Initiative,local initiatives to help individuals who have been trafficked and fight the trafficking problems in the region alongside other local psychologists, counselors, police officers, and attorneys.
The pioneers in this relatively new field within the region had opportunities to learn from, talk to, and connect with leaders and innovators from Atlanta, a hotbed of human trafficking. The Southern city, is a wellspring of innovation and successful anti-human trafficking efforts. In the past representatives from national organizations, such as the Polaris project, and the FBI have gathered there to share best practices.
Together the group networked and discussed the current state of affairs in Hampton Roads, what has worked in other areas to address the problem, and other ideas that have not worked or even backfired. They sought to dispel myths that, in general, sex work is “not a profession, … a victimless crime,” and discover the truth of the dark world of human trafficking.
Across the board, there were cries for “cooperation between local, and national forces and legislators” and across organizations. Furthermore, while the FBI and local attorneys aimed to “put as many pimps… in jail for as long as possible,” they also described the complicated legal aspect of the human trafficking situation. For instance, as they currently stand, a number of laws charge a victim of human trafficking with various sex offenses once they are rescued from their handler. On the flip side, however, the decriminalization of prostituted minors has in some circumstances, lead to the police’s inability to intervene and recover these children because there is no visible crime committed.
Lastly, this conference demonstrates the extent to which there is cooperation between the Government and Non-Governmental Organizations, but also the extent to which this cooperation has left to strengthen and mature. In a September Women in the World article, Jane Mosbacher Morris commented on a dire need for increased cooperation between the government and non-profits. As Morris mentioned, “counter trafficking has commanded limited human and financial resources across administrations” and a wide coalition of government, private, and community resources will be needed to properly address this issue.
Morris is correct: there seems to be little collaboration between groups on preventing trafficking. Also, there was little talk, for instance, about cooperation on human trafficking with security forces and homeland security. However, there was much said about the use of government resources – particularly within the FBI- in fighting this issue, as well as cooperation between the FBI and local groups in catching and prosecuting pimps and traffickers. Furthermore, the FBI does indeed use the technology at their disposal in the cyber- crimes division, and help to locate child pornographers and put traffickers behind bars.
Since human trafficking is a global problem, local cooperation will be key to addressing it in the United States and abroad. Regent University is one of the major academic institutions helping to make that point known.