January 11th is national human trafficking awareness day

NORFOLK, Va.- Virginia is the fifteenth worst state in the United States for human trafficking according to the Safe House Project, a local group fighting to end trafficking.

Human trafficking made national headlines this week after human trafficking victim Cyntoia Brown was granted clemency by the Tennessee Governor's office.

She served 15 years for killing a man who bought her for sex when she was 15 years old.

She was a trafficking victim the world knew about, but according to the Safe House Project, only 1% of victims will ever be saved.

Globally 4.8 million children are being sex trafficked globally. There are 300,000 children being sex trafficked in America today.  Even with only 1 percent of victims ever rescued, there are only 100 beds nationally for rescued children so they typically end up in foster care, the juvenile system or a psychiatric hospital without ever receiving the proper individualized care they need. Since 66% of children are trafficked by a family member they often are unable to ever go home if rescued.

“Putting them into juvenile detention centers, we put them into juvenile institutions, and a lot of them end up in group homes or the foster care system. The challenge with that is these kids have endured such trauma that they need specialized care,” said Brittan Dunn, Safe House Project Chief Development officer.

Safe House Project Chief Development Officer Brittan Dunn says many victims are forced into prostitution on the streets and disguised to look older than their age. The average age of entry into trafficking is 12 years old. Dunn says authorities believe 80% of prostitutes are victims of trafficking.

Dunn says you may know a trafficking victim, they can be your neighbor or a student in your child's class. She said most people don't believe this is something that could ever happen in their family, among their friends or in their community but it does.

"Kids are being recruited out of our schools, it is peer to peer recruitment. It is online. It`s coming at them through the gaming consoles. It is predators finding their way into your home without ever coming through your door," Dunn said.

There are ways you can help. Dunn says first get educated and know what the signs are. Second, know who to turn to if you are suspicious someone may be a victim of trafficking. In Hampton Roads, there is a special trafficking task force. You can call authorities with tips if you are concerned. You can also call the national human trafficking hotline, find that information here.

To show solidarity in the fight today you can draw a red x on the top of your hand. Dunn says you can spread awareness by posting that picture on social media using the hashtag #safehouse.

Without help, 80% of the victims who are saved, will fall back in the hands of their traffickers.

The Safe House is hosting a race to rescue race on April 6th. It is a global virtual 5k. Everyone is encouraged to get involved and raise awareness.

Find more information and how you can donate here.

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