RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Human trafficking is a problem that hits closer to home than many realize. That’s according to Barbara Amaya, an expert on the issue and also a survivor of human trafficking.
“The summer I turned 12, let me repeat that the summer I turned 12 in July, I ran away from home and eventually fell under the control of traffickers in D.C. who sold me to a trafficker in New York, where for the next decade I was trafficked in the streets of New York,” she said.
In the Student Commons of VCU, a group gathered on Monday to discuss the issue at a forum called Virginia Takes the Lead, or V.T.T.L. The group wants to fight human trafficking in the state of Virginia.
“The newest figures say there are some 36.9 million people trapped in some form of slavery, labor trafficking or sex trafficking,” explained Laura Lederer, a nationally known advocate in fighting human trafficking. “Although we don’t have solid figures for the U.S., we know that it’s 100,000 to 200,000 per year that are entrapped in some kind of trafficking.”
“In Virginia, I think we know even less about what’s happening.”
Speakers at the forum said trafficking is not only an issue in the city, but it’s a problem in the suburbs and even in rural areas.
“You might think, ‘oh, that 12-year-old that 13-year-old, she has troubles, she’s a prostitute, a child prostitute … There’s no such thing as a child prostitute, those words don’t go together. Victim of human trafficking,” Amaya stated.
Amaya added that the internet has it easier for predators to target vulnerable children.
“I would say, sadly, it’s in your living room, it’s on your computer,” she said. “When you’re a child, your son or daughter, goes on that computer and says, ‘I hate my mother, I hate my father, they’re so mean,’ there’s someone in that chat room that might say really? Tell me all about it.
“Before you know it, they’re on a train or a plane going to meet this person who they think is their best friend, because they get into their head and tricked them,” said Amaya.