Reported number of cases of human trafficking on the rise in Virginia

ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - New data shows a significant jump in the number of human trafficking cases reported nationwide.

Thirty-five percent more cases of human slavery, in some form, were reported last year in the U.S., according to Polaris.

Virginia's numbers follow that trend as the commonwealth remains a hotspot for gangs trafficking victims into sex and work labor.

Modern-day slavery, forcing children and adults into sex work or forced labor, is an ugly truth that Virginia has only in recent years come to realize.

Keith Farmer, the director of Straight Street in Roanoke, said the practice is more common that the public thinks.

"Human trafficking happens everywhere and it's been happening for a long time," said Farmer.

Based on the latest data from Polaris, a human trafficking hotline, more and more cases involving young boys are girls are being reported.

"It's modern-day slavery. These girls and boys are becoming victims. They are lured in, often with a false sense of hope, compassion, caring and once there are lured in, the tables are turned and all of a sudden they are held captive," explained Farmer.

Despite common misconceptions that only immigrants are enslaved, the majority of victims are U.S. citizens.

"Eighty-seven percent of human trafficking victims are domestic. They are not brought in from another country. They are kids from our community," continued Farmer.

The most likely to be victimized are children who have already been sexually abused.

One in four girls is estimated to be a victim of sexual violence before the age of 18, leaving a large number of our youth at risk.

The problem is so bad locally, Straight Street is building an eight-bed facility in the Roanoke Valley which will serve as a temporary safe haven for victims in our area. It's expected to be complete by June.

While local police departments are still working to train and learn more about the issue, human trafficking is still predominately tackled by the federal authorities.

Virginia laws remain weak on prosecution.

Overall the commonwealth has a received a "C" on the grade scale for combating the issue.

Multiple bills to beef up prosecution on human traffickers have been killed this legislative session.

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