Category: Blog

Blog updates from RJI Staff.

Virginia Coalition against Human Trafficking meeting at IJM

On May 10th, 2011, anti-human trafficking groups from across the state of Virginia congregated at the headquarters of the International Justice Mission in Washington D.C. under the unified title of the Virginia Coalition against Human Trafficking. Representatives from the American Center for Law and Justice, Courtney’s House, the FBI, Grace Community Church, the Grey Haven Project, Liberty University, the Attorney General’s Office, the Polaris Project, Shared Hope International, the Virginia Beach Justice Initiative, and the Organization to End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT-USA) were all in attendance. For many, the presence of members from so many organizations together in a single room at one time was somewhat surreal. It presented a rare opportunity for people to put names to faces, share ideas in person, and ultimately gear up for the upcoming legislative session.

When the meeting was officially called to order, representatives from the International Justice Mission provided the group with a federal overview of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) about to be pushed through Congress again. Afterwards, representatives from the Polaris Project gave a recap on the most recent state legislative session as well as ways for the group to combine forces and improve their methods for the next legislative session.

Those in attendance also had the opportunity to hear from a representative from the Attorney General’s Office who suggested future legislative goals for the group and how to best pursue such goals. Before closing, the meeting further consisted of a presentation of the emerging trends in the world of human trafficking. Those present were given a bird’s eye view of the past, present, and possible future of human trafficking legislation in the state of Virginia.

By the end of the meeting, relationships had been formed, contact information had been swapped, and new ideas birthed in many minds. Most, if not all, of those present that day are now anxiously working towards their legislative goals with the reassuring knowledge that their support system just got a whole lot stronger. Meanwhile, with such a successful meeting behind them, the members of the Virginia Coalition against Human Trafficking are now eagerly planning the next meeting where the group can once again be reunited.

Human Trafficking Bill Signing Ceremony: A Momentous Day!

Governor of Virginia Robert F. McDonnell declared, “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,” at the Human Trafficking Bill Signing Ceremony located at Washington Dulles International Airport, a common entrance point that traffickers use to transport victims into the United States. On Tuesday May 31st, 2011, Governor McDonnell initiated an aggressive campaign against human trafficking in Virginia by signing three landmark pieces of legislation, House Bills 1898 and 2190 as well as Senate Bill 1453, which work to strengthen comprehensive laws and close loopholes. For example, HB 1898 acts to amend existing code statutes and significantly stiffen penalties for those who abduct adults for the purposes of prostitution. HB 2190 creates a plan to coordinate effective response for victims of human trafficking to ensure the delivery of social services and resources they need and deserve in order to begin the recovery process.  SB 1453 authorizes the Department of Criminal Justice Services working along with the Attorney General Office to advise and train law enforcement agencies and prosecutors in the identification, investigation, and prosecution of traffickers. RJI was present at the event along with the many delegates, law enforcement officials, journalists, new station crews, and various non-governmental organizations. All of us agree with Sara, RJI Director and Founder, when she stated, “We are very grateful to Governor McDonnell and the members of the General Assembly who, along with the many grassroots organizations in Virginia, have taken an active leadership role on this issue. Together, with the proper awareness and action, we can fight to end modern-day slavery in our lifetime. Today is significant in many ways because it is sending a message to traffickers and those who enslave others that Virginia is open for honest, legal businesses, but closed for slavery.” As RJI and partners are becoming closer and closer to abolishing modern day human slavery, the more and more human traffickers acknowledge the concrete reality that Virginians and America as a whole will no longer tolerate such malicious violations against human rights.

To learn more, please visit https://www.wtvr.com/.

To see more photos from the event, click here.

-Tran, RJI Administrative Volunteer

 

Sara attends IJM’s Global Prayer Gathering

The Global Prayer Gathering (GPG) began for me in my living room on Friday evening, watching Gary Haugen, Founder of International Justice Mission (IJM), give his session talk to the 1,000 attendees at the Sheraton Hotel in Tyson’s Corner and also the millions like me who were watching via Live Feed.

Gary Haugen shared that Psalm 37 encourages us to face the facts that the bare knuckle, smash mouth fight for justice around the world is REAL, and it is a matter of life and death. We were also encouraged to be patient fighters in prayer, and that when we pray we are releasing God’s power into the world by our asking. His talk was very inspiring, and the worship that followed moved me to tears. I could not wait until 5am when I would wake up and make my way in the darkness of the morning to Tyson’s Corner to join the GPG for the Saturday and Sunday sessions.

Upon arrival I was greeted by many who I call friends now from IJM, while also meeting many new faces from all over the USA who came together for the same purpose. To pray for those around the world who are in slavery and to pray with faith for the end of slavery in our lifetime.

The first session of the morning  began with my good friend Christa Hayden proclaiming that we will not win this fight for justice apart from God and His word and fellowship with Him. She implored us that we need to take evil seriously and we need to take God seriously. We need to pray with all boldness and fervency and that the victims of oppression, abuse and slavery deserve our faith filled fervent prayers for their release and freedom!

After the plenary session, attendees had an amazing chance to visit with every IJM field office in separate conference rooms throughout the hotel. Each room focused on a specific country that IJM was working in and had investigators from each respective country sharing real time prayer requests with attendees. Groups of attendees spent 30 minutes in each room as we prayed individually, in groups, out loud and cried out for freedom of prisoners, for safety for the investigators and for favor with the justice systems in those countries.

It was during one of the prayers sessions in the room representing Cebu, Philippines where God truly heard our prayers and performed a miracle. The investigator present received a text from Cebu that his team was undergoing a live investigation and the room began to fill with fervent prayers for the investigators involved with the mission and for the girls’ safety.

That evening while we were joined together once again for worship and prayer, the service was interrupted to announce that the mission was a success and that dozens upon dozens of girls were rescued from the LARGEST BROTHEL/KARAOKE BAR IN CEBU!! The roof about fell off when 1,000 voices began to praise God for his faithfulness and goodness!! It was amazing to be a part of that moment and I am still thanking God for His goodness and faithfulness. He truly does love justice and calls us to join His heart for it as well.

Sunday we were joined together for our last session where we took communion together and reflected on what God had done that weekend. I came back from that conference with a renewed heart, vision and understanding of the power and importance of prayer. Without prayer and daily fellowship with God, we will NOT win this battle for the ending of slavery in our lifetime.

Will you join in this fight?

– Sara Pomeroy, Director

Not I but Christ….

I think that most days we make it without having to rely on God to get us through the day, or so we think; we go about our days with our to do lists, and if you are like me its all in your head. April 12 gave me a whole new perspective of what it meant to walk in His strength…..  A few months ago the alumni chapter of Delta Sigma Theta asked RJI to come and speak at their Spring Forum, I agreed to be the speaker.  The two days before the forum I used every available moment (which don’t come often) to prepare; because I am not a stranger to speaking in front of people I wasn’t terribly nervous but I have to say I always get a little shaken up before I speak, so I needed to be sure I had everything mapped out. The nature of an all volunteer organization makes it impossible to pay the bills without another job, and mine happens to be working with small children, while they are sleeping I focus on RJI.  That day we could not get the presentation to download to my computer, I found out that the location was moved and we would no longer have power point capabilities so I would have to completely change my approach, and the children didn’t sleep as long as I hoped they would so I was trying to figure all of this out while taking care of them….. I also had to figure out how to get to the other side of town during rush hour in less than 45 minutes….. It’s interesting that the deeper we all get into this issue of advocating for those that do not have a voice of their own the more we see the hand of God guiding us and opening doors we could have never imagined. In the midst of all the craziness and with the help of Anna Hurley I figured out the technological problems changed up my speaking approach and got there on time. On the way there I found myself asking God to be with me and to guide the presentation, because on top of everything else I wasn’t feeling well and I knew that I needed His strength to get me through.  When I got there I learned that my fellow speakers were a Virginia senator, a judge, and the president of a well known advocacy organization on Virginia…..  Needless to say I felt a little out of place, thankfully, I didn’t learn any of that until we were introduced so I didn’t really have time to let my nerves get the best of me.  During the presentation I mentioned our core values: awareness, education, advocacy, prevention and prayer, I expounded on the ways that we are living them out in what we do at RJI.  When I talked about the advocacy piece I mentioned the bills that we presented at our lobby day back in February and are waiting to be signed by the Governor, then I went on with each of the other values.  After the presentation the senator who was sitting next to me leaned over and asked if those bills would put Virgina where we need to be as far as our laws against human trafficking; since I also mentioned that Virginia is one of the states in the country with the worst laws against slavery. I told him that they were a good start but they were not enough, and then I remembered that I earlier that day in the midst of all the commotion I printed the bills out and had them with me! ( I normally don’t do that because I try and do my part for the planet and all)  I highlighted the bills and handed them to the senator and he asked if he could keep them, and I said yes sir!  We had a time of question and answer that went really well, at the end of the forum the president of the chapter got up and said that she was shocked that this was an issue in our city.  After the meeting was over the president of the well known advocacy center came up to me and said, “The senator and I would like to work with your organization.” He went on to tell me about some of the “small” issues that they took on and brought to light in the community, he also went on to tell me about the church connections that would be available to us because of their connections. It was a success!  The more I reflected on this event the more I realized that it was not because I am this amazingly charismatic speaker (which I can assure you I am not) or because the information was terribly compelling, it was because we serve a God of justice that is committed to rescuing the weak and this is His fight not ours, it is His strength, power and vision that we depend on and that empowers us to “Love mercy, Do Justice and walk humbly with our God”.

-Lea Whitehurst, Church Partnership Coordinator

February & March FACE

The past couple months with FACE have been so much fun and this semester is flying by!

In February, we focused on injustice from several different perspectives. First the students discussed how they see injustice in their own lives and then we shared a video of a Florida teenage girl’s own story of trafficking. We also talked about different fundraising options and had them be the first contributors to their school collage.

A few weeks ago we held our March FACE meeting, which focused on legislative advocacy. Everyone’s favorite teaching tool, School House Rock, taught us how a bill becomes a law and then one of our student volunteers from the University of Richmond expanded upon the lesson and facilitated our Q&A for the day. We also learned how to find out who our legislators are and then Janet Polarek, Secretary of the Commonwealth, taught our students how to write a letter to their representatives. At the end of the day all of the students worked together to write thank-you posters to Gov. McDonnell in preparation for him signing the three recent VA human trafficking bills.

Chopstix Social Fundraiser Huge Success

Thank you so much for everyone who made it out this last Wednesday night for our Social Fundraiser at Chopstix. We were able to raise funds for RJI’s work and bring awareness to trafficking in Richmond. The manager of Chopstix was so happy with the business that we brought in that he invited us to have a fundraiser every Wednesday of March! So if you were unable to make it out this past week don’t worry you have three more chances to come eat some delicious Asian cuisine, support RJI, and educate your friends and family. You can find the events on our calendar or on Facebook.

By the way, the gyoza dumplings and edamame are delicious!


Hands That Heal Weekend

Our recent Hands That Heal weekend was a huge success! RJI partnered with the local The Grey Haven Project (TGHP) and Students Stopping the Trafficking of Persons (SSTOP) to host a faith-based, three-part weekend conference here in Richmond, VA.  Friday night West End Assembly of God hosted us for a documentary viewing and panel discussion. The documentary gave the 120 attendees an eye-opening view into one face of human trafficking: the commercial sex trafficking of domestic minors in New York City.
Saturday morning and afternoon 57 people – from Richmond, Liberty, Virginia Beach, and Farmville – attended our aftercare training at the University of Richmond campus with Nicole Wood from Faith Alliance Against Slavery and Trafficking (FAAST). Wood covered human trafficking 101, the biblical response to human trafficking, cultural issues and trauma involved in aftercare, and an introducation to holistic aftercare. One participant remarked that it was powerful and encouraging to simply be in a room with individuals for the training who are all passionate about fighting human trafficking on some many levels. We are now planning the continuation of this training, which will be provided as an 8-week follow-up course.
Saturday evening’s Prayer and Worship Night for Modern-Day Abolitionists provided a fitting close to the weekend as individuals gathered at Commonwealth Chapel to worship our God of Justice and to seek His heart for victims.  Another participant mentioned that while she has always cared about issues of justice, this weekend truly gave her God’s heart for justice.  In conclusion, it was an incredibly packed and exciting weekend – and we look forward to seeing the fruit and action that comes out of it!

Legislation Update – Call Your Representatives

Thank you again to all who attended our lobby day in January. We are happy to announce House Bill 2190 has passed in both the House of Delegates and Senate, but there are two bills  that still need our support. Our delegates and senators will be voting on these bills in the coming weeks, so we need everyone to call their representatives to encourage them to support the bills.

Please contact your delegate in regards to SB1453 and your senator in regards to HB1898. You can easily search for your delegate’s & senator’s contact information here. If you have any questions about how to contact your representatives please email RJI.

The bills are as follows:

HB 2190 – Passed both the House and Senate
Introduced by Delegate Ebbin

Requires the Department of Social Services to develop a plan for identifying victims of human trafficking and coordinating the delivery of services such as housing, health care, legal services, job training, education, as well as advising victims of any benefits the victim may be eligible for under Virginia or federal law.

HB1898 – Passed in the House & Pending in the Senate
Introduced by Delegate Hugo & Delegate Watts

Amends the current statutes to criminalize abduction of any person for purposes of prostitution, extend evidentiary protections to victims of human trafficking, and criminalize receiving money for causing a person to become a victim of forced labor or services, prostitution, concubinage, or the manufacture of pornography.

SB 1453 – Passed in the Senate and Pending in the House
Introduced by Senator Newman

Gives the Department of Criminal Justice Services the power and duty, in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General, to advise law-enforcement agencies and attorneys for the Commonwealth regarding the identification, investigation, and prosecution of human trafficking offenses using the existing criminal statutes in the Code of Virginia.



FACE – January

A few months ago,  Sara had the incredible opportunity of speaking to over 300 teachers in Henrico County about the importance of teaching about modern Day Slavery to their students. She explained that in the United States, children as young as 11 yrs old are lured into this industry, and it is important to reach them at this middle school level to prevent them from potentially being in that situation. We also wanted to educate the kids on this issue as it relates to globalism, and also to raise up future abolitionists!

After this engagement, our first call came from a teacher at Fairfield Middle School. They were very  excited to be a part of a pilot program to raise awareness amongst the students as well as raise funds for RJI. Our first meeting began with educating the kids on what injustice means, and what it is not. We were honored to have Major Steve Drew from Richmond’s Police Department come to speak to the kids about how to remain safe in their neighborhoods. We also showed a short clip from Internaional Justice Mission about a student who raised money for IJM by collecting loose change, which turned into a whole program that IJM uses today! We ended the meeting with a contest! We wanted to make sure the students really owned this program, so we had a contest for the name of the program! We had so many great entires, but the winner was, Falcon’s Against Child Exploitation (FACE).

The program will run through June, with a different lesson each month and we are so excited to see the impact this program will have on the kids in the program, but also the impact THEY will have on the entire school! Stay tuned! Also if you are interested in helping with this program, please contact justicerva@gmail.com

“Its amazing to see such young kids with such a passion and heart to serve so early on, its the generation after us that will have to fight what we are teaching them now.” –Tessa Smucker, photographer

 

“Seeing how engaged they are is so exciting to me, it blesses my heart. I’m so excited to see the results of hard work from these kids in the next few months. They have beautiful dreams and ideas and I’m blessed to be apart of the process.” – Kourtney Hetrick, RJI Staff


“Seeing the kids get passionate about something that has so much impact on their world and the world they will grow up and seeing them want to make a difference was encouraging and made me excited about the future of RJI and the abolitionist movement of the future!” –
Mary Hampton Elam, RJI Volunteer

Legislation Update – Lobby Day

Around 50 people came out on Wednesday, January 26th to discuss with their legislators the need for stronger legislation in Virginia against human trafficking. There were nine bills supported, including changing the language of abduction codes to include more trafficking cases, developing a social services plan for survivors of trafficking, and requiring the posting of the national human trafficking hotline phone number in all adult entertainment venues. Several attendees also participated in committee hearings in support of two of the bills.

We are happy to announce that half of the bills lobbied for have passed! Thank you so much for all of those who were able to attend and for those praying for us all day! If you would like more updates on VA human trafficking legislation please visit polarisproject.org.