This article was updated on Jan. 13.
Fairfax County has launched a new website to inform the public about human trafficking and how to better identify potential victims.
To protect their children, residents in Northern Virginia need to be able to recognize sex trafficking and report it, according to Lead Det. Bill Woolf of the Fairfax County Police Department’s new human trafficking unit.
The unit was created — and will be funded for the next two years — through a $1 million Department of Justice grant award the police department received in October.
Half of that — $500,000 — allowed the Fairfax County Police Department to pay one full-time detective and one crime analyst to address human trafficking in Fairfax County. The other half of the award enables the nonprofit Polaris Project to provide victim services in collaboration with the new Fairfax County initiative.
The new website, www.justaskva.org, is a collaboration of the Fairfax County Police Department, Fairfax County Public Schools, the Fairfax County Commission for Women, Hidden Brook Communications, Fairfax Community Church, and other faith-based organizations.
According to Chris Davies, director of counseling services for the Fairfax County Office for Women & Domestic and Sexual Violence Services, funding for the new website was made possible by a grant from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.
Davies said the goal is to educate the public on what to look for, and also inform social workers, school administrators, teachers, pastors and other community leaders on what to do when someone comes to them to report a possible victim.
“We have been pooling our resources around this central campaign of ‘Just Ask’” Davies said. “In order to increase public awareness of sex trafficking, people need to ask questions. If you suspect someone may be a victim, just ask them. Also ask others in the community what they are doing to help prevent it.”
Woolf said the best method of prevention is awareness.
“The website is the cornerstone of the ‘just ask’ prevention project and is designed to heighten awareness in the community and provide a much-needed recording mechanism,” he said. “It will enable the public to provide information in suspected cases as well as discuss the issue on a blog, look up a calendar of related community events, and it will also provide the stories of anonymous victims.”
According to Woolf, traffickers, including local gangs, target unsuspecting and typically insecure teenage girls as young as 13 or 14 who are seeking attention and affection.
“These guys are very savvy in coercion and brainwashing,” he said. “They don’t want to use violence. Their means of power is to get these girls to fall in love with them because then they can get them to do anything they want.”
According to Woolf, many organized gangs treat teen sex trafficking like a legitimate business and run it with financial acumen, using established accounting principles that they apply to their trade.
“Many have done cost-benefit analyses and have found that the sex trafficking of minors often runs a lower risk for higher profit than pushing drugs,” Woolf said.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II said that since he has been in office, the commonwealth has obtained 50 human trafficking-related prosecutions and identified 375 victims.
“And we are just scratching the surface,” he said. “What we see most of in Virginia is sex trafficking by pimps and gangs.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria has successfully prosecuted 24 federal cases against 50 defendants since 2011.
“There are a lot of myths and misperceptions about human trafficking out there,” Woolf said. “We hope with this website to educate, and let people know that this threat is very real, right here at home, and that we need the community’s help in combating it.”