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Local Human Trafficking Task Force uses billboards to raise awareness

Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide, and it's steadily growing in Virginia.

NORFOLK, Va., (WVEC) -- Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide, and it's steadily growing in Virginia.

Attorney General Mark Herring and the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force are making a public effort to crack down on it.

They’re on a mission to stop the selling of people for labor, sex, and other services.

“Human trafficking is a heinous crime,” said Herring. “In Virginia, we will not tolerate human trafficking.”

Herring announced that since the organization’s inception in 2017, they’ve had 108 new trafficking investigations.

The task force has made 45 arrests and rescued 76 victims, but now the task force is taking its message to new heights.

This community force is in the beginning stages of putting 8 billboards up around the Commonwealth to send a message to the victims and traffickers.

The billboards ask the public to do something if they see something. The billboards are expected to reach an estimated 2.5 million people across the region.

Overnight, three of them are up, on Lafayette Boulevard, Hampton Boulevard, and on Grandby Street in Norfolk.

Hampton Roads billboard locations include:

  • 3210 Bainbridge Boulevard, near the intersection of Rosemont Avenue, Chesapeake, VA
  • US 60, near the intersection of Elmhurst Street East, Newport News, VA
  • 3601 Chestnut Avenue, near the intersection of 36th Street, Newport News, VA
  • 2720 Hampton Boulevard, near the intersection of 35th Street, Norfolk, VA
  • 2019 Granby Street, near the intersection of 21st Street, Norfolk, VA
  • 3001 Lafayette Boulevard, near the intersection of Ballentine Boulevard, Norfolk, VA
  • 2561 Airline Boulevard, near the intersection of Victory Boulevard, Portsmouth, VA
  • 3307 George Washington Highway, Portsmouth, VA

The billboards are inspiring people to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline. (1-888-373-7888) This campaign will also include bilingual digital advertising to reach all victims.

Homeland Security Investigations special agent, Dewey Mann is part of the task force. He said citizens will encounter people in their daily lives out and about or in their workplace. He believes community awareness is key to rescuing human trafficking victims.

“If we can just rescue one victim, that’s a success in our books,” said Mann.

Samaritan House takes in the victims if they want help after law enforcement finds them. Robin Gauthier is the executive director of Samaritan House.

"We weren't aware how prevalent it was until we really got into it and started accepting people so, over sixty victims thus far," said Gauthier. “This is just the tip of the iceberg.”

The task force is using all they can of their 1.4 million dollars grant they got back in 2016 to raise awareness in the community.

Part of that work soon involves using social media to spread the message. Posts will begin to go out on Facebook and Twitter in the coming weeks.

Herring’s office said to identify human trafficking, people should look for certain signs in a possible victim.

Signs of Human Trafficking include poor living conditions; mental or behavioral problems like being afraid and anxious, especially around law enforcement; poor physical health, like signs of abuse; and lack of control when it comes to money, or even speaking freely.

If anyone notices those signs in someone, they are asked to contact police.

For more resources to help victims of human trafficking, click here.

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