Northern Va. a hot spot for sex trafficking of U.S. teens

WASHINGTON – The FBI says the sex trafficking of U.S. teens is the second fastest growing crime in America. The greater D.C. area is a hotspot for this form of modern day slavery.

In 2009, Sara Pomeroy started a nonprofit to fight the growing epidemic of human trafficking. Pomeroy’s Richmond Justice Initiative, or RJI, is a faith-based organization that educates, equips and mobilizes communities in the fight against sex trafficking, especially the trafficking of children. She says people always think trafficking happens in India and Cambodia, but not here.

“The hope is that because Northern Virginia is a hot spot that the community will get involved,” Pomeroy says. “We really need the community to get involved.”

She says she would love to begin a sister organization here in Northern Virginia.

“We also have sister organizations we have trained up in Virginia Beach, in Blacksburg and in Harrisonburg,” she says.

Pomeroy says by creating a community justice initiative, the community takes a stand and says this is no longer acceptable. She says it is about raising awareness of the problem in the community and teaching people how to recognize the signs of human trafficking victims.

It is estimated that 100,000 U.S. children are involved in the sex trade each year.

“This is a long fight and we need all hands on deck … so they can be the eyes and ears of the police, calling in those tips,” Pomeroy says.

Pomeroy says human trafficking doesn’t discriminate. She says the victims come from all backgrounds.

“This is an issue of vulnerability and these girls are looking for love, are looking for affection and are looking to belong,” she says. “Traffickers are really good at identifying that vulnerability and exploiting it.”

The Polaris Project is one of the largest anti-trafficking organizations in the U.S. and is based in D.C. It reports that pimps or traffickers can make more than $630,000 tax-free each year by selling four young women or children. The Polaris Project says those hefty profits are the reason this criminal business has become a multi-billion dollar industry and is the reason that it is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world.

The Polaris Project got its name from the North Star “Polaris” which guided slaves along the Underground Railroad to freedom.

For tips on recognizing the signs of human trafficking victims, visit the Polaris Project’s website.

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