Delegate Mark Keam - Virginia's 35th House District

Delegate Keam Supports Bipartisan Bills to Combat Human Trafficking

Newman bill would curb modern-day slavery

LU professor says victims include two Lynchburg-area women

By Ray Reed Published: January 26, 2011

RICHMOND – Lynchburg Sen. Steve Newman joined a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers Wednesday who are trying to curb an almost-hidden problem of sexual slavery and forced labor.

There's a perception that slavery victims are mostly women who are brought in from other countries, said Michelle Rickert, a Liberty University professor and human trafficking expert who helped Newman draft the bill.

But two recent victims were girls from the Lynchburg area who were quickly taken to New York City, according to Rickert and Phyllis Floyd, a former legislative assistant for Newman.

Both of those young women were rescued within 24 hours, Floyd said. But no criminal charges were filed against abductors, and the episodes never were reported in the news media. The girls' identities have been completely shielded, Floyd said.

"We had one case of a girl who was lured away for a promise of a modeling contract. And we found her in New York City," Rickert said after a news conference in Richmond.

In Virginia, human trafficking has been most evident as teen prostitution in Northern Virginia massage parlors, said Del. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria. Ebbin spearheaded the coalition's formation. 

Rickert said there also are examples of forced labor in the Hampton Roads area that can be traced to the region's fishing industry and to motels' housekeeping staffs.

Human trafficking is global, and not just a U.S. problem, said Nathan Wilson of Project Meridian Foundation, a group that works to curb human trafficking. Victims, mostly teen girls, are brought into the U.S. from other countries. But some American victims are shipped overseas, Wilson said.

Russian mobsters are major figures in the activity, Wilson said.

Legislators who are sponsoring human-trafficking bills include, in addition to Newman and Ebbin: Fairfax County Dels. Tim Hugo and Barbara Comstock, both Republicans; and Fairfax County Democrats Mark Keam, Kaye Kory, Vivian Watts and David Bulova.  All were present at a news conference Wednesday focusing on bills to tighten up Virginia's laws dealing with abduction and slavery.

Gov. Bob McDonnell did not attend, but pledged his support to the legislation.

"I thank the lawmakers in today's press conference for leading on an issue that cannot be allowed to lurk in the shadows any longer," McDonnell said in a statement.

Newman said he "really did not understand the impact of human trafficking" until, at Floyd's urging, he introduced a Senate resolution against the practice two years ago. Newman received calls and e-mails describing the problem from all over the United States.

"I can tell you it really opened my eyes," Newman said at the news conference.

Newman said his bill would provide training for police and prosecutors in how to use Virginia's laws to arrest traffickers.

Police and prosecutors know Virginia has some laws on its books to deal with human trafficking, "but they don't know exactly how to use the current laws and the new laws to actually identify human trafficking and prosecute them," Newman said.

"Our track record over the last couple of years has not been good," Newman said.

Newman's SB 1453 would give someone in the Virginia Attorney General's office the task of helping set up programs to assist victims of human trafficking.

"I have worked with the attorney general (Ken Cuccinelli) who is supportive of this measure," Newman said.

Cuccinelli's office and the state's criminal-justice agency will develop a curriculum for law enforcement officers and prosecutors, Newman said.

"We are going to take this curriculum all through Virginia to teach law enforcement people and prosecutors how to identify and how to prosecute these cases," Newman said.

Rickert teaches pre-law classes at LU in jurisprudence. She also teaches a human-trafficking class, because she realized a few years ago that many people didn't realize the extent of the problem.

Rickert said she learned about forced-labor issues early in her law career, when she was representing businesses whose goods were being counterfeited.

She learned that the counterfeit goods were made in sweatshop factories overseas, and that the street vendors who were selling them in New York were "being held against their will," and not being paid.

That scheme works this way, Rickert explained: People are brought to America with the promise that they will get jobs.  Once here, they learn they are in debt to the trafficker and, unable to speak English, cannot free themselves, Rickert said.

As her knowledge of the practice increased, Rickert said, "I realized that, especially with minors' sexual servitude, that the number-one victims of the sexual servitude industry are domestic minors" and not people imported from other countries.

"It's happening right in our back yard in Virginia," Rickert said.

News Update
Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Vimeo