Today, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed three pieces of legislation that increase penalties for human trafficking, provide additional programs and services to prevent human trafficking and to assist victims of the crime. McDonnell also signed a proclamation making January 11 an annual observance to raise awareness for human trafficking throughout the Commonwealth.
“Unfortunately, the subjugation of human beings who are forced against their will into labor or worse, into the sex trade, is not something relegated to the history books or to underdeveloped third-world counties,” McDonnell said. “More than 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, and although estimates vary widely, between 4 million and 27 million people are said to be trapped in modern-day slavery across the world. Virginia ranked among the top-10 states for human trafficking report calls received in the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s call center between December 2007 and December 2010. We must take action to raise awareness of this disturbing scourge on our society, and we must provide law enforcement and social services agencies all of the tools we can to address these inhumane crimes.”
The Legislation was sponsored in the House by state delegate Adam Ebbin (D-49). "It's hard to believe, but there are victims of this horrible crime living right here in Virginia," said Ebbin. "Trafficking victims are often beaten, raped, threatened, manipulated, and locked up. It's important that when victims are rescued, we are able to get them the help they need to start the recovery process."
Human trafficking is the obtaining of human beings for forced labor or sexual servitude through force, fraud, or coercion. The U.S. government estimates that up to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the country annually, and the Polaris Project, a leading non-profit dedicated to combating trafficking in the United States, notes that Virginia ranks among the top 10 states in tips called in to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Ebbin's bill, HB 2190, directs the Department of Social Services to develop a plan for identifying trafficking victims, assisting them in applying for state and federal benefits, and coordinating the efforts of state agencies and non-profit organizations in delivering of health, housing, education, job training, and legal services.
"The legislative efforts of the bi-partisan coalition that Delegate Ebbin helped form has resulted in a vast improvement to the legal framework in Virginia to combat human trafficking. All three bills that the Governor is signing into law will help save lives, protect victims, and give law enforcement and prosecutors the tools they need to target traffickers. This is a great day for the anti-human trafficking movement and for the commonwealth of Virginia," said James Dold, JD, Policy Counsel for the Polaris Project who attended the ceremony.
Ebbin has long been a leader on this issue in the General Assembly, having previously established and chaired the Virginia Commission on the Prevention of Human Trafficking. In past sessions he has also passed legislation expanding the definition of abduction to include trafficking-related offenses, making it a crime to extort someone by withholding immigration documents, and enabling law enforcement officials to seize vehicles used to traffic minors.
“The General Assembly and Virginia’s government must do all it can to make Virginia’s children safer—especially from those who would sexually exploit them for money. These laws make it more difficult for perpetrators to prey on Virginians by increasing penalties for these crimes and ensuring that all government services and agencies are working together to prevent human trafficking. We are making a clear statement that those who participate in human trafficking are not welcome in Virginia,” said Delegate Tim Hugo (R-40).
Delegate Vivian Watts (D-39) also attended today’s signing ceremony at Dulles. “Virginia now has very strong laws to combat those criminals who engage in human trafficking on any level. I want to thank everyone who worked so hard to make this legislation successful. I’m proud to be here with the governor and all of you as we celebrate this legislation that toughens penalties and helps the victims of human trafficking,” said Watts.