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Here's why you'll see more state troopers at Virginia rest stops

Troopers will scatter across various rest areas across the Commonwealth to speak with drivers and hand out educational materials on human trafficking.

VIRGINIA, USA — The Virginia State Police have partnered with the Virginia Trucking Association, along with U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, to kickstart a high-visibility human trafficking prevention campaign to help drivers make a difference in the lives of victims.

The initiative, called “Operation Safe Passage," will involve state police troopers stationed at various truck stops, rest areas and service centers handing out educational material and speaking with drivers to educate them about the warning signs of human trafficking. The troopers will also conduct routine motor carrier inspections.

Virginia State Police shared that, according to Polaris — a D.C.-based nonprofit resource and advocacy center combating human trafficking —  there were 179 reported cases of trafficking and 77 traffickers identified in Virginia in 2019 alone.

According to Homeland Security Investigations, during Fiscal Year 2021, more than 2,000 people were arrested nationwide in connection with human trafficking. From those cases, more than 720 trafficking victims were identified and offered critical assistance.

"With tens of thousands of commercial trucks and buses traveling through and across Virginia on any given day, this statewide initiative has extensive, life-saving potential," said Colonel Gary Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. "Commercial drivers can be our added eyes and ears when it comes to identifying the common indicators of human trafficking victims and perpetrators. This campaign is about putting an end to a very serious crime that intentionally preys on vulnerable adult and juvenile populations."

Homeland Security Investigations asks the public to beware of the following as indicators of human trafficking:

•        Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?

•        Has a child stopped attending school?

•        Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?

•        Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?

•        Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?

•        Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?

•        Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?

•        Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?

•        Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to?

•        Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?

•        Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?

•        Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?

•        Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?

Not all indicators listed above are present in every human trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators is not necessarily proof of human trafficking, police warn. 

Melissa Snow, the executive director of child trafficking programs at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said runaways and homeless children are most at risk. In 2021 she said one out of every 6 runaways were trafficked. 

"Quite often traffickers will move from place to place from city to city in one state or across state lines to evade law enforcement detection," Snow said. "Increasing awareness on truly what child sex trafficking looks like is an absolutely important step in increasing the possibility of intervention.” 

Anyone who suspects human trafficking is encouraged to report it by dialing #77 on a cell phone to reach the nearest Virginia State Police Emergency Dispatch Center or to call 911.

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