Human trafficking presentation sees large turnout

TOMS BROOK–The pews at Toms Brook United Methodist Church were packed with local parents, grandparents and concerned citizens attending a Tuesday night presentation on human trafficking.

The presentation was organized by Marie Ryman of the Hearts and Hands women’s group, and delivered by Lt. Scotty Thompson of the Strasburg Police Department and Theresa Hudson, a special agent with the FBI. It focused on ways to identify traffickers, buyers and victims of human trafficking and what citizens can do if they encounter someone involved in the crime.

Thompson explained to the crowd that many people involved in human trafficking along the I-81 corridor are also involved in the opioid drug trade as dealers or addicts, especially on the sex side of human trafficking.

“A high percentage of those [victims] are addicts, and they find themselves prostituting to feed their addiction,” Thompson said.

He also explained that many victims are chronic runaways, often in the foster care system without strong family ties, and traffickers manipulate these victims by identifying their need for belonging.

“Finally one day when they run away, they meet this charismatic individual who promises them the world,” Thompson said, “and then they end up in the sex trade.”

Hudson talked about labor trafficking, which often involves migrant workers who come into the country on agricultural visas and are paid far below minimum wage and never get to bring home any money, and, in effect, become slaves to whoever runs that farm. Labor trafficking can also include younger teens selling magazines or panhandling. There are currently no laws against labor trafficking in Virginia.

She also explained that victims of sex trafficking are targeted on social media or in popular hangouts for teens and promised a glamorous job as a model or dancer and threatened with force or violence against them or their loved ones once they are with the traffickers. If they try to leave, they are manipulated to a point where they become attached to their captors. Hudson also said that Virginia ranks fifth in the nation for human trafficking.

“[Traffickers] seek out these girls and boys who are vulnerable, they trick them with gifts, they shelter them with that loving relationship, and then they’re traumatized,” Hudson said. “That makes it very difficult for them to separate through trauma bonding.”

Bobby Funkhouser, a Woodstock resident and member of Toms Brook United Methodist, said that he was happy that the church took the time to inform people about human trafficking.

“It’s something that most of us didn’t realize was as prevalent in the county as it is,” Funkhouser said.

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