Modern Day Slavery in Richmond

Like the ER Dr. who shocks the dead back to life, the panel of Law Enforcement and Faith Based Organizations shocked the community gathered at the Richmond Police Training Academy. The evening began with an announcement by Sara Pomeroy, founder of Richmond Justice Initiative, “Scheduled speaker, Special Agent James Melia of the FBI, will be unable to join tonight’s panel due to the rescue of two people suspected to be human trafficking victims, just hours before we gathered here tonight.” This stunning news meant we no longer had the privilege of thinking this was not a problem of industrialized nations. We had the horrific realization that this is happening in our own backyards.

The panel consisted of Josh Bailey of The Gray Haven Project, Major Steve Drew of the Richmond Police Department, Beth Bonniwell of the Henrico Police Department, and Sara Pomeroy – Richmond Justice Initiative. They held the audience captive as they taught us not only what human trafficking consists of but also of ways to combat it.

Faith Based Organizations such as Richmond Justice Initiative, and local organizations such as The Gray Haven Project, work together to integrate into the communites they love and live in – and affect change by using their creative talents, professions and passions to prevent the exploitations of the vulnerable. “Yes, we want to beat the crap out of all of those who buy humans in slavery. But, we remember, they were once innocent too. We go into communities and become a part of their lives. This is the key in establishing trust from people who have no reason to trust,” explained Josh Bailey.

The Police Departments are on the front lines of this horrific crime. Major Drew and Ms. Bonniwell assured us that the police departments use the law and education to catch the perpetrators. According to Ms. Bonniwell, “We can also use very creative tactics in order to deter perpetrators.” She cited an example of sending a notice to the home of a buyer in order to inform his family members of his despicable behavior.

The audience asked questions and provided their own insight into what is going on in their communities. We all agreed that the problem was a difficult one to solve and could only be accomplished with team work. The evening ended in a prayer led by Drexel Rayford, despite our religious diversity, he asked that we all close our eyes for a time of silence and unite together in prayer to overcome this atrocity. I prayed that God would rescue all of us from the suffocating grip of passivity so that we could motivate our community, moblize ourselves, and end the suffering of the innocent. – Ellen Andrusia