Sex trafficking is an illegal trade of human beings for sex. It is a prevalent issue in Virginia and is like modern-day slavery. Sex trafficking entails recruiting, transporting, harboring, and receiving people through force, threats, coercion, abduction, deception, fraud, abuse of power, taking advantage of another person’s vulnerability, giving or receiving payments or benefits to obtain a person’s consent to control their life. All this is for exploitation. Exploitation in sex trafficking includes prostitution, sexual exploitation, and servitude.

Sex trafficking assessments in Virginia identify and assist victims of sex trafficking. Victims experience physical and psychological effects during their stay with their abductors.

Thus, they need help to recover their lives and dignity. If your loved one is a victim of sex trafficking in Northern Virginia or the city of Fairfax, you need proper legal assistance and guidance in ensuring that they receive the support they need. At Virginia Criminal Attorney, we understand the sex trafficking assessments laws better to advise and guide you until you obtain a fair outcome of your loved one’s situation.

An Overview of Sex Trafficking in Virginia

Virginia is a beautiful state to visit and live in. Its beauty does not change from season to season. The lakes, beaches, cities, rivers, and landscapes change every season to give residents and visitors a full year of exciting experiences. You can enjoy these in both state and national parks.

However, its beauty does not cover up for a growing issue of human trafficking. Human trafficking is a severe problem in most states across the country. Some states have stricter rules against trafficking than others. Virginia has seemingly weaker laws, which have made it easier for human traffickers from other states to migrate and enjoy the booming business. According to The National Human Trafficking Resource Center, over 600 calls and emails were made regarding human trafficking in the state by 2015. It is challenging to obtain the exact numbers since this is an illegal trade across the country. However, the state is doing all it can to bring down the numbers and deal with the issue once and for good.

Sex trafficking is a form of human trafficking whereby the victims are transported, transferred, harbored, and received for sexual abuse. Victims are primarily children, adolescents, and vulnerable young adults. Sex traffickers use force, threats, fraud, and all manner of tricks to gain the victims' consent. Most victims do not realize their status until deep into the trade, with no escape route. Families are the most affected by all forms of human trafficking. Loved ones disappear without a trace, while others are involved in activities their family members are ashamed of.

Sex trafficking has been a significant issue in Virginia. By 2015, it was the only state in the U.S that did not have any specific laws against human trafficking. Fortunately, the state passed two laws in April 2015: HD 1964 and SB 1188. They are the first laws in the state constitution to define human and sex trafficking, provide details of the crime and penalties for offenders, and criminalize sex trafficking against children.

The latter is a Class 3 felony, without the need for prosecutors to prove intimidation, force, or deception. The statutes also criminalize recruitments for commercial sex. Virginia laws also have provisions for identifying and protecting victims of sex trafficking.

Sex Trafficking Assessments

Sex trafficking assessments in Virginia occur when a complaint or report regarding allegations or information that a particular child is a victim of sex trafficking. Assessments are also necessary if the local departments receive reports regarding severe forms of sex trafficking. According to Va. Code 63.2-1506.1, when the local departments receive information or allegations, they conduct a human trafficking assessment. Assessments are necessary to verify the said allegations or information and devise ways through which the victim or the family can receive help.

The objective of sex trafficking assessments is to collect crucial information that will help the local departments understand the current situation regarding suspected sex trafficking victims and their immediate needs. The information that the department could gather during the assessment include:

  • The victim’s primary safety concerns
  • Rehabilitative and protective services the victim and their family will need to deter neglect and abuse.
  • The risk the victim will likely face in the future

Once the local department decides to act on the allegations or information on possible sex trafficking, it will involve the alleged victim’s immediate family. The department will need the help and input of the victim’s family to arrange for the required rehabilitative and protection services that the victim or the family needs.

The local department can petition the local court for services it deems necessary in offering rehabilitation or protection to the victim or the family. If the department feels the need for family assessment or investigation into the sex trafficking matter, it will act immediately. That will shed more light on the victim's immediate needs and family. It will also shed more light on anything that the government could do in the future to prevent sex trafficking incidences.

Sex trafficking assessments work best when the parents or guardians of the victim reside within the jurisdiction where the complaint or report was received. If not, the local departments that receive the complaint or information have to reach out and work jointly with the local departments where the victim’s parents or guardians reside. That would make it easier for the departments to understand the exact needs and safety concerns of the victim and their family.

Once the assessments are complete, Virginia law under § 63.2-1515 does not allow the local departments to enter the complaints or reports gathered into the central registry. If the department establishes that the victim did not suffer abuse in their home or at the hands of their parents or guardian, the department must not include the victim’s name in the registry without consultation and obtaining the consent of the victim’s parents or guardians. But if the neglect or abuse happened in a licensed/unlicensed facility, or public/private school, information regarding the abuse and neglect should be included in the registry.

If the victim’s name already appears on the registry without the permission of their parents or guardian, after the departments establish that the case of neglect or abuse named the victim’s parents or guardian as the perpetrators, the parents or guardian have the right to petition the Department through a written request to have the victim’s name removed from the registry. Note that information in the registry is not publicly available but could be made public in accordance with the Board regulations.

The local department or departments handling the case must notify the Child Protection Services Unit within the department if the alleged victim is a minor. The notification should be in writing after the trafficking assessment.

When conducting sex trafficking assessments under this statute, the local department or departments can interview the alleged victim and the victim’s siblings (if the victim is a minor) without obtaining consent. The interviews can also happen without the presence of the victim’s or sibling’s parents, legal custodian, guardian, or anyone else responsible for the victim or their siblings, including the school personnel.

The Importance of Sex Trafficking Assessments

Sex trafficking is unfortunate. Traffickers target the most vulnerable individual or groups, resulting in entirely destroyed lives. It is more regrettable if the target is a minor. Families are more affected as the lives of their loved ones are destroyed. Sex trafficking assessments bring hope to the victims and families that something good will come out of it in the end. It gives victims and families hope to find help, regardless of what the victim has gone through.

Assessments help to identify the immediate safety needs of the victim. Safety is a great concern for sex trafficking victims. They require a new environment where they will feel safe, complete with caretakers that will help them transition from the life they have been accustomed to.

The local departments look into the past living conditions of the victims, which could have put them at risk of sex trafficking. Then, they determine rehabilitative and protective services that could help change the future life of the victim and deter any neglect and abuse.

Assessments also aim at considering any future harm the victim could face. That helps the department devise ways to protect the victim from damage. Preventive measures are necessary if the victim runs the risk of facing sex trafficking in the future, even after rehabilitation.

If the department determines that the victim’s family is unable or unwilling to participate in the services suggested, it will seek alternative plans to promote the safety and rehabilitation of the victim. The aim is to rescue the victim from neglect or abuse and reunite them with their family and communities.

Sex trafficking assessments also aim at establishing if the victim has suffered any form of abuse or neglect. In some instances, the local departments receive the information soon after trafficking. They can rescue the victim before the victim suffers harm at the hands of the traffickers. If the victim has suffered any type of harm, the department will devise ways to heal before starting their recovery journey. The local department’s mandate includes establishing the responsible party if a minor has suffered neglect or abuse. According to the state criminal laws, the person or people responsible for the abuse or neglect must face criminal charges.

Importance of Family Assessments After a Sex Trafficking Assessment

In some instances, assessing victims of sex trafficking is never enough, especially if the victim is a minor. The local departments must conduct family assessments, too, to establish the real issues the victim is facing and any possible risk of trafficking in the future. Family assessments help the local departments obtain more information to assist in decision making, including:

  • Determining the immediate physical and safety concerns of the minor
  • Establishing the rehabilitative and protective services the victim or their family needs to deter neglect or abuse
  • To identify any risk of the victim to future harm
  • If the mother was exposed to drugs and substance abuse while she was still pregnant, and if she sought treatment and counseling before the child was born
  • Any alternative plans the department could have to promote the minor’s safety if the parents are unwilling to participate in the rehabilitative and protective services suggested to them.

Family assessments by the local departments regarding sex trafficking must happen within sixty days of receiving information or a report about a possible case of sex trafficking involving a minor. After the assessment, the department must compile a report and inform the minor’s family of its findings.

The department must also consult with the family to plan for the required rehabilitation and protective services the victim or the family needs. However, families are under no obligation to accept the services offered after the assessment. If the victim’s family declines the services suggested by the local department, the department will close the case unless there is a need to pre-determine it again in the future.

The Procedure Followed in Sex Trafficking Assessments

Sex trafficking assessments start right after a local department receives a complaint or report about a specific case of sex trafficking. In that case, the department must respond to the information by starting an investigation. As previously mentioned, sex trafficking is a severe issue in Virginia. Thus, the local department will start its investigation immediately.

If the department feels that it has sufficient information regarding that particular case, it will complete its report and enter its details into a state automation system maintained by the same department.

The department will then consult with the family of the sex trafficking victim to plan for rehabilitation and protective services it feels that the victim or their family needs. The department’s findings advise this decision during the assessment.

If the family agrees on the department’s suggestions regarding rehabilitation and protection of the victim and his/her family, the department will petition the local court for the services needed. These services could include the removal of the victim or the victim’s siblings from their current residence.

The department has up to forty-five days to determine if the report it received about child neglect or abuse was founded. If the information is established, the department must ensure that the child receives adequate help and support. But, if the report is unfounded, the department will close the case and only refer to it in the future if a need arises.

The Role of Local Governments in Controlling Sex Trafficking

The local governments in Virginia have been at the forefront of countering sex trafficking activities and ensuring that victims receive the much-needed help to recover and take control of their lives. The local government’s role is mainly three-fold, including prevention, protection, and prosecution. As a result, the number of sex-trafficking cases is declining. There is hope that the numbers will drastically reduce in the years to come.

Prevention is critical in reducing sex trafficking cases and countering the problem once and for good. The local government has been looking into the vulnerability of potential victims of sex trafficking to minimize supply and put a stop to the trade. By addressing the potential victims’ vulnerability, local governments aim to ensure that people, especially families, are more prepared to fight the issue and stop the trade.

Local governments also aim to raise awareness to ensure local communities know about sex trafficking, its risks, and its dangers. They do this in partnership with local governments and non-governmental organizations. When more and more people become aware of the underlying issue, they will be better positioned to stop it.

Local governments are also involved in the immediate protection of identified and potential victims of sex trafficking. Protection considers victims' immediate physical and safety needs by offering them psychological assistance, legal help, and necessities like food and shelter. Local departments go to the extent of assessing victims' families and potential victims to determine safety. If the responsible department has serious safety concerns, it seeks alternative measures for the victim or potential victim.

The local government is also involved in the prosecution of sex traffickers. Every report the local government receives regarding sex trafficking is serious. Local departments investigate and assess the situation to determine potential offenders. According to the state laws, anyone found guilty of sex trafficking faces prosecution and punishment.

Virginia has anti-trafficking laws in place to guide prosecutors and criminal court judges whenever they face a potential case of sex trafficking. Law enforcement officers are also well trained in identifying and arresting suspected sex-trafficking offenders.

Additionally, the local government partners with non-governmental organizations to meet the immediate needs of sex trafficking victims, including:

  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Clothes
  • Medical services
  • Legal services
  • Job training programs
  • Transportation
  • Education
  • Victim compensation services

Red Flags Indicating the Need for Sex Trafficking Assessment

Everyone must remain alert and report any suspected cases of sex trafficking so that victims can receive the care and assistance they need. Members of the public should continue informing the local departments of any possible issue of sex trafficking to help fight the problem once and for good. Some of the tell-tale signs that sex trafficking could be happening include:

Intense Fear, or Paranoia

An overly tense, submissive, paranoid, or generally fearful person could be a victim of sex trafficking. Threats, fear, and intimidation are the tools that sex traffickers use to control their victims. The person could be a child or an adult.

If you speak to that person, they defer to another person before providing any information. Sex trafficking victims are always under the control of their traffickers. Traffickers are afraid to give more information that could lead to their arrest. Therefore, traffickers control every information the victims provide to anyone that asks.

Physical Injuries or Tattoos

Victims of sex trafficking will likely incur physical injuries as they fight their abusers. Some traffickers brand their victims with tattoos for ease of identification. You will probably see these tattoos in odd body parts like the chest or face. The tattoos are also about sex, money, and sometimes pimp phrases.

Inappropriate Clothes

Ordinary people will be careful how they dress most of the time. That is why it is possible to identify a victim of sex trafficking through their dressing. Most will dress inappropriately sexy, regardless of the weather.

Unaccompanied Minors at Night

Sex traffickers will send out their victims to fetch clients and make money. Most victims of sex trafficking are minors. An unaccompanied minor at night is a red flag. The minor will decline to provide information to anyone who asks because they are instructed not to speak to anyone while out on the streets.

Additionally, these minors will not have any ID because another person holds their documents.

A Person Living in a ‘Massage’ Business

Sex trafficking victims do not enjoy good shelter and comfortable beds like everyone else. Comfort is the least concern of their controllers. Traffickers will make their victims available in areas where they will likely find clients. Therefore, anyone who lives or is always in a ‘massage’ business is probably a victim of sex trafficking. The person will not be available when you need them and is not free to come and go.

Find a Competent Criminal Attorney Near Me

If you suspect that someone you know is a victim of sex trafficking, it helps to report to the local authority to obtain proper help for that person. Sex trafficking is a severe problem in Virginia. The local government does all it can to prevent it, protect victims and potential victims, and prosecute offenders. Sex trafficking assessments conducted by local departments help victims and their families start life afresh. Our team at Virginia Criminal Attorney understands the legal processes better to help you find the right help for your loved one. Call us at 703-718-5533 from Northern Virginia and the city of Fairfax, and let us study the details of the case to guide you on the right course of action to take.