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NewsChannel 3 investigation: Human sex trafficking in Hampton Roads

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Hampton Roads, Va. - Pimps are luring teens and using them to sell their bodies and make money.

Human sex trafficking is happening in the community. People forced to sell their bodies for money – human sex trafficking is happening right now.

A NewChannel 3 Investigation looks into the problem and what is being done about it. At 18-years-old,Tanya Street said she fell in love with a man ten years older than her.

"When we met, he knew that he was a pimp or a trafficker, but I didn’t,” said Street.

She said the first four months of their relationship were great.  Looking back, she said he was grooming her and trying to learn as much about her to prey on her vulnerabilities.

She said she got lured into a life of prostitution and was trafficked for two years.

“A pimp likes to break his hoe.  We hear that and we know that it is true. They want to get us to a place where we will do anything he asks us to do," said Street. She said her trafficker would not allow her to use drugs, but he would use sleep as a way to control her. She said she and the other girls were sleep deprived.

“You learn to detach yourself from reality,” said Street. Street had a young son when she met her pimp and had just graduated. She said her pimp would use her son to get her to work.

“He would do things like, 'We’re not going to pick up your son if you don’t make this amount,'” said Street.

She said gradually the relationship turned violent. Street said she was eventually rescued by a police officer.

Today she works to help victims and educate people in the community about human sex trafficking. Patrick McKenna started Virginia Beach Justice Initiative – the group that works to combat the issue of human sex trafficking in our region.

"Some of the women we’ve been helping are actually people from Hampton Roads, Norfolk, Newport News, Hampton, and Virginia Beach.”

NewsChannel 3 stopped by one of their recent training sessions.  They are working to train more advocates in the community.

McKenna said the training is intense.  Volunteers go though 35 hours of training, pass a psychological profile and a background check.

"We as a community need to know what to look for and how to protect them and give them the tools  to protect themselves,” said McKenna.

Last month, Hampton Roads was part of the FBI’s nationwide crackdown on human trafficking. Three minors were rescued and 12 pimps arrested in our area, according to law enforcement.

Michael Hudgins, with the Newport News Police Department, works to help people recognize and eliminate trafficking in the community.

"We started to change how we as a police department are dealing with sex trafficking and prostitution activity,” said Hudgins and he admits changing the mentality about prostitution has been important.

"Most of us years ago would see them as prostitutes, so it’s been a cultural change to try to view them as victims of the circumstances,” Hudgins, "We can lock them up, write the tickets, but we see where that’s gotten us.  It’s not very effective.”

He said to be more effective, there are more efforts to help victims and more advocates being used. In Newport News, they’ve got what is called a John School,  people, typically men arrested for hiring prostitutes take classes to learn about human sex trafficking and the dangers of these types of crimes.

“They see it as a consensual sexual encounter, they have no idea.  They have no idea that most of these women are having sex 10 to 20 times a day and it’s not really consensual," said Hudgins.

Hudgins hopes to go into more schools and hospitals to make people more aware about human sex trafficking. Experts want more people to be aware that there are predators on the Internet looking to lure more young victims.

Nadine White-Shook, Victim Advocate with the group "Let's Talk" said, “I don’t want it to be a two minute blurb on the news.  I want it to be something that everyone is focused on, be vigilant about, to be aware that this is happening often, more often than most of us believe.”

For Street, she’s used her past as a way to help other people understand.

"That is my story, and there are so many stories that have happened and are happening now,” said Street.

Reducing the number of people impacted by human sex trafficking is the ultimate goal and experts said that goal can be achieved by making the community more aware of the problem.

"We need to address our own personal biases. These women and men almost universally are not doing it because they want to, but because they've been so psychologically manipulated and broken," said McKenna.

Below is information on an upcoming event in Newport News about a community discussion on the topic.

Neighborhood Leadership Institute Hosts Discussion on Human Trafficking

“What is Human Trafficking & Why You and Your Family Should be Concerned”

On Friday, November 20, 2015 at 6:30 PM, the Newport News Department of Human Services Neighborhood Leadership Institute will host a community discussion about human trafficking.

The session called “What is Human Trafficking & Why You and Your Family Should be Concerned” will be held at First Baptist Church Jefferson Park at 615, 42nd Street in Newport News.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline receives an average of 100 calls per day.  The International Labour Organization estimates there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking worldwide.