ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - A Roanoke Police patrol car has a new look hoping to spur conversation about human trafficking. The issue is something WSLS 10 has continued to follow for several years after our investigation led to changes in state law changing the definition of trafficking.
Virginia has seen human trafficking before the U.S. Attorney's office prosecuted one local case recently.
"A concerned citizen saw something at a motel that didn't look right with an older gentleman and a young child and made a call to the police department," said John Fishwick, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia.
Roanoke Police Chief Tim Jones hopes the message on the patrol car "end human trafficking" will start more discussions and people will look for the warning signs.
"Females between the ages of 16 and 25 who are kind of disconnected from the general public, they may have a substance use disorder, they may need financial assistance, they may be homeless," said Jones. "We travel hundreds of thousands of miles each year and they're [patrol cars] seen by many people, this car potentially is a moving educational component on just how serious the human trafficking problem has become in our country."
"If we can bring awareness to the issue and keep it before the public hopefully we can prevent human trafficking from happening in the first place and that reduces the number of victims," said Keith Farmer, from Straight Street.
While there's not an official estimate of the total number in the U.S. Polaris, a group that fights human trafficking, estimates the total number of victims nationally reaches into the hundreds of thousands. It's a form of modern day slavery.
"The prostitution side of it we see more regularly. you see the same ads, you see the same people posting on social media sites. the human trafficking side is more fluid, and you may get information that a group is a particular location predominately at a hotel or motel and you have a very limited window to respond and to react," said Jones.
Chief Jones says if one person sees the car and makes a call it's worth it. The number on the car 1-888-373-7888 is a national human trafficking hotline that reports an average of 100 calls per day from across the country. Just this year they've had more than 500 calls from Virginia. Straight Street is also working on renovating a building to be a shelter for teen girls to give them care up to 90 days after they are rescued from human trafficking.
Straight Street paid about $1,300 dollars to get the car wrapped with the end human trafficking message.
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