Four years ago, I introduced my first piece of legislation to address an issue that I thought happened everywhere but here in Northern Virginia; sex trafficking. According to the Polaris Project, a leading organization in the global fight against human trafficking, over 100,000 children are victims of the sex trade in the United States each year. The Polaris Project ranks Virginia 7th in the nation in the percentage of calls received reporting human trafficking.
Much progress has been made since then to strengthen Virginia’s human and sex trafficking laws. As a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, I have worked with my colleagues to enact harsher penalties against those that would do harm to our children for profit and to increase public awareness about the issue. Legislation that I introduced in 2011, 2013, and 2014 made abduction for the purposes of child prostitution a felony, increased the punishment for those soliciting minors for prostitution, and empowered law enforcement to better track down and arrest suspected traffickers.
Unfortunately, these and other new laws are not enough. Sex trafficking is thriving in Northern Virginia due to the area’s access to major highways and airports, the affluence of the area’s economy, as well as a large transient population. Nationally, it has become the second fastest growing crime industry in the United States after drug trafficking.
Therefore, this year I have introduced landmark legislation, HB1964, which will for the first time in Virginia, create a standalone statute for sex trafficking. The continued gaps in Virginia’s laws still do not sufficiently protect the victims or punish the evildoers. HB1964 clearly defines and establishes the offense of sex trafficking as a class 2 felony, which includes the sex trafficking of a minor. It establishes mandatory minimum sentencing for the perpetrator when a minor becomes the victim of sex trafficking, and would criminalize the recruitment of minors and adults for commercial sex.
I am hopeful that the passage of this and other human trafficking legislation this session will provide better protection for our young people and punish those that seek to harm them. I would encourage you to learn more about this issue; learn the warning signs for those young people who might be targeted and trapped in this horrific crime. There are many great organizations both locally and nationally working to end the nightmare that hundreds of thousands of young people are currently experiencing. Some of these organizations are:
Polaris Project http://www.polarisproject.org/
Richmond Justice Initiative http://richmondjusticeinitiative.com/
Shared Hope International http://sharedhope.org/
Passing this landmark legislation will not eradicate this horrific crime, but it will be a good step towards protecting our young people. It has been my honor and privilege to work with so many dedicated individuals, groups, law enforcement agencies and legislators. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the General Assembly to continue this fight against human and sex trafficking.
One child taken from his or her home, one young person falling prey to this evil, is one too many. By working together, we can and will send a message to those who would seek to harm our children, that our kids are not for sale in Virginia; not now, not ever.
Delegate Tim Hugo represents both western Fairfax and western Prince Williams counties and is currently the Majority Caucus chairman for the Virginia House of Delegates.