This past month, at John Hopkins University, our own Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell spoke about the issue of human trafficking and who is fighting this issue worldwide and in the state of Virginia. RJI was amongst those honored to be mentioned!
Remarks of Governor Bob McDonnell
Meeting the Needs of Child Trafficking Survivors Symposium
Johns Hopkins University
May 1, 2013
- “I want to thank the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Advisory Council on Child Trafficking (ACCT) and the Goldman Sachs Foundation for making this event happen
- And I want to applaud the President and his Administration for making this issue a national focus and priority
- I also want to specifically thank Autumn (Vandehei) for her work on today’s symposium, and everyone who has made this happen
- Human trafficking is a national tragedy
- It’s also sadly the kind of crime that because it is so painful to talk about, so devastating to its victims, and so at odds with everything we value in our society, we as a culture have a hard time even talking about it, much less addressing it
- Let’s be honest: we don’t want to admit human trafficking is happening here because it doesn’t fit our idea of what this nation is
- But we can’t confront this evil unless we talk about it. Study it. Fight it.
- We have to bring it out into the open and declare that there is no place in this nation for human trafficking and that we will stand up for victims and go after those who have hurt them with the full force and weight of the law
- And that is what you are doing today
This Problem is In Your City and Your County, and It’s In My Commonwealth
- First, every American needs to know this: human trafficking is not something you can only see on a 60 Minutes special
- Human trafficking is happening in or near where you live.
- And the more we realize that human trafficking is here, the more we will find the solutions and the will to confront this evil
- Let me tell you: human trafficking is happening in Virginia
- In the past months federal authorities convicted an MS-13 leader, who played a role in operating the gang’s large juvenile prostitution ring in Northern Virginia and Maryland. The leader was sentenced to 17 years in prison last month.
- About a year ago, another MS-13 gang member was sentenced to 50 years in prison for recruiting girls as young as 14 from middle schools, high schools, and homeless shelters in northern Virginia and forcing them to engage in commercial sex acts on behalf of the gang.
- Human trafficking is real, and the victims are our friends, family and neighbors…., and, sadly, our children
What Virginia Has Done
- I am pleased to say that in Virginia we have not stood by while this evil has taken place
- We have, Republicans and Democrats together, acted
- The Virginia General Assembly has a broad bipartisan group of legislators who are passionate about fighting human trafficking.
- That bipartisan cooperation has made our progress possible
- In the last few years, we’ve moved up two spots out of a possible four in the Polaris Project’s ranking of state laws. If Virginia wasn’t a common law state, my guess is, we’d be at the top of the rankings.
- We’ve done this by passing important, bipartisan, legislation over the past few years.
- We’ve passed legislation in Virginia to:
- Make it a felony to abduct a minor for the purpose of the manufacture of child pornography or prostitution
- Require the posting of the national human trafficking hotline in strip clubs and truck stops
- Require our Department of Criminal Justice Services to advise law enforcement agencies on human trafficking issues
- We’ve required the Department of Social Services to develop a service plan for victims of human trafficking
- We’ve mandated that our State Board of Education, with assistance from the Department of Social Services, provide awareness and training materials for local school division staff on human trafficking, including strategies for the prevention of trafficking of children
- And we’ve increased penalties for solicitation of prostitution from a minor.
- This was the result of legislators and leaders from both parties
- They got results
- But, as you well know, government cannot win this fight alone
The Importance of Citizen and Community Involvement
- Like any great effort in America success will only be fully achieved through the involvement of citizens in every community
- When citizens and community groups get involved and stand up, like you’re doing today, we will end trafficking once and for all
- In Virginia we have great organizations on the front lines of this fight, complimenting the work done by investigators and prosecutors.
- Organizations like the Richmond Justice Initiative which was started in 2009 by a young woman in her 20s named Sara Pomeroy.
- Sara [and her staff] built this grassroots organization person by person, from the ground up to bring awareness and education to the issue of human trafficking.
- [RJI] started a program called the Prevention Project, where they teach middle and high school students about the warning signs of Human Trafficking.
- To date, hundreds of middle and high school students have received awareness/action message and are equipped to fight against this awful crime.
- Another organization, the Gray Haven Project has already treated 20 victims of human trafficking and is in the planning stages to open Central Virginia’s first safe house for trafficked women.
- Courtney’s House was started in 2008 by human trafficking survivor Tina Frundt. In just five years, they have worked with over 500 victims of human trafficking, helping them to escape this cycle of violence and ensuring they have a good place to land when starting their new life.
Conclusion: Next Steps
- The complexities and enormity of this crime may lead some to become overwhelmed with despair. How can we possibly eliminate the forced exploitation of 27 million people in the world? How can we truly help the child victims of this horrendous crime?
- One of the most tenacious warriors in the war on human trafficking is Gary Haugen
- And I know that Holly Burkalter is with us today from International Justice Mission- Holly thank you for the work your group is doing
- Gary says “The victims of injustice in our world do not need our spasms of passion; they need our long obedience.”
- Gary is right
- We must fight on.
- First, we must find ways to treat the victims as victims and the criminals as criminals and not vice versa
- No one should ever be stigmatized or diminished or put down because they are a victim!
- In clear cases of human trafficking, we need to be clear that the trafficker and the buyer are the criminals
- Women, men, and children, who are forced to have sex with strangers against their will are not criminals.
- The demand side of human trafficking must be addressed in a real and meaningful way.
- We must continue to work across jurisdictions to ensure that we have a collaborative approach to fighting the bad guys.
- We must continue to train law enforcement to recognize the signs of human trafficking, a difficult task when victims are often brainwashed, scared and even, at times, defiantly on their trafficker’s side.
- We must train law enforcement to ask the right questions, in the right ways, at the right times so that the victim can finally get the freedom she may not realize she wants
- Once that freedom is realized, we must treat the unique scars caused by the repetitive trauma of trafficking
- The ripping apart of one’s identity and dignity, accompanied by unspeakable pain create some of the most challenging treatment scenarios one can imagine.
- We must continue to warn our daughters and sons about online vigilance.
- This work will not be easy
- But you have set yourselves to it
- You are making a difference
- Symposiums like today’s, bipartisan cooperation like we’ve see in Virginia, leadership at the national level like we’ve seen from this President, citizens getting involved like Sara Pomeroy in Richmond, this is how we will end human trafficking, care for its child victims, and make this nation a better and safer place
- Thank you, and God Bless You for the work that you are doing”
We are grateful for his kind words & recognition of modern day human trafficking.