Church group to host human trafficking presentation

TOMS BROOK – Marie Ryman had always been interested in the issue of human trafficking and how it directly affects the Shenandoah Valley; she was looking for a way that she could somehow help teach people about it.

“I got really passionate about wanting to do something,” Ryman said.

What started as a small event for the “little old church ladies” in the Hearts and Hands women’s group that she chairs, Ryman explained, has grown to a presentation headed by the Strasburg Police Department and an FBI agent. The women’s group, with the Toms Brook United Methodist Church, will be hosting a presentation on human trafficking at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Ryman had been canvassing the valley from New Market down at the local shops and businesses to inform the public about this presentation, and said that she was surprised that many of the people she talked to didn’t know anything about the issue, some thinking human trafficking involved heavy vehicle traffic.

She said that some shops even laughed her out, saying that there’s no way that human trafficking is an issue here. Still, none of that has stopped her from trying to get the word out.

“If we could just help or save one person, it will be all worth it,” Ryman said.

Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery that occurs in every state, including Virginia, the National Human Trafficking Hotline – an organization that serves victims and survivors of human trafficking by working with various service providers and law enforcement – states  on its website.

According to data collected by the hotline, there were 610 calls to the hotline from Virginia in 2016, and 148 reported cases of human trafficking. Of those cases, 105 were sex trafficking,  30 were labor trafficking, and 126 involved female victims.

U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Staunton, who serves as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, helped pass legislation to ensure funding for the hotline, as well as the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act,  which provides resources to law enforcement to hold everyone involved in these crimes accountable and helps the victims affected by these crimes.

“As a father and a grandfather myself, I understand the need for legislation to hold everyone involved in these crimes accountable,” Goodlatte said.

Human sex trafficking is the fastest-growing business of organized crime and the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world, according to the FBI, and earlier this year it announced that it has established a taskforce to combat the growing issue along the Interstate 81 corridor.

Sgt. Scotty Thompson, of the Strasburg Police Department, has been actively involved in the working group the FBI established, and will be leading Tuesday’s presentation on the issue’s timeliness and relevance to the Shenandoah Valley.

He said that the discussion will focus on things to look out for, helpful tips on identifying victims of human trafficking, different statistics and how trafficking relates to both sexual and labor human trafficking

“The more people we can educate, the more agencies we educate, the better we can be at stopping this,” Thompson said.

Contact staff writer Briahnna Brown at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or bbrown@nvdaily.com