The Federal Bureau of Investigations announced Thursday it has formed a task force designed to stamp out human trafficking along Interstate 81.

Dee Rybiski, a spokesperson from the FBI’s Richmond office, said the I-81 Corridor Human Trafficking Working Group will be hosted by the FBI’s Winchester field office.

She said while human trafficking has been addressed in the Northern Virginia area, it has continued through the Shenandoah Valley area, possibly coming in from West Virginia.

“There are a lot of strip clubs in West Virginia, and they [the group] felt maybe that’s what was prompting some of the trafficking that’s trickled into our state,” she said.

According to a news release from the bureau, human trafficking includes the domestic sex trafficking of adults, forced labor in agriculture, factories or restaurants, domestic servitude, or the trafficking children.

The working group will consist of FBI agents, along with members of local law enforcement agencies, who will share information, cases, best practices, preventative measures and other tactics in an effort to eliminate the problem.

One reason human trafficking can be so hard to stop, Rybiski said, is that victims don’t often identify their situation to law enforcement. This can lead them to be charged for prostitution or other crimes, instead of treated as victims.

“Sometimes things aren’t looked at as human trafficking and might be looked at by law enforcement as prostitutions because sometimes victims don’t admit they’re victims, so it can be hard for law enforcement to determine the difference,” she said.

Thus far, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office, the Strasburg Police Department, the Winchester Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office, the Hagerstown Police Department in Maryland, the Western District of the United States Attorney’s Office and the Drug Enforcement Agency have all joined the working group.

Looking forward, Rybiski said she’s hoping the working group will help raise awareness on the issue and educate bystanders on how to help.

“The goal of the group is to bring awareness and educate the community of things to look for, and to know who to contact,” she said.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or jzuckerman@nvdaily.com

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