VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WVEC) -- A federal grant has been secured to begin and operate a Human Trafficking Task Force in Hampton Roads.
The announcement came Wednesday, from Attorney General Mark R. Herring, Virginia Beach anti-human trafficking non-profit Samaritan House, and ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
"The average age a teen enters sex trafficking in the United States is 12-14," said Executive Director of Samaritan House Robin Gauthier. "This could be one of your family members, or mind."
The task force will work with state, local, and federal law enforcement partners, and victim support service providers.
"Human trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes HSI investigates," said Michael K. Lamonea, assistant special agent in charge of HSI Norfolk. "People are treated as commodities, making this crime akin to modern day slavery."
Thanks to the grant, the task force will be able to identify, rescue, and restore victims, build awareness about human trafficking, and investigate and prosecute criminals.
Virginia has had the 13th most cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline. Experts in the field believe that this is due to Virginia central location along major interstates and international connections. In 2016 alone, the hotline has received 339 calls, reporting 73 cases of human trafficking in the Commonwealth. In 2015, the hotline received 624 calls for 145 cases.
"Human trafficking is a dehumanizing crime that calls for a comprehensive response in order to restore victims to safety and well-being and hold traffickers accountable," said Attorney General Herring. "This coordinated, victim-centered approach is going to make a huge difference in the lives of victims that are identified in Hampton Roads, and it's going to send an unmistakable signal that Virginia will not tolerate human trafficking."