RICHMOND, Va. (VCU CNS) — Virginia ranked 15th in the United States for the most reported cases of human trafficking in 2016. Last year, the state reported 148 cases with 59 involving minors, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
In response to the issue, Virginia is enacting a new law to decrease crimes of this nature and help its youngest victims.
House Bill 2282, which will take effect July 1, requires the Virginia Board of Education to develop guidelines for training school counselors, school nurses and other relevant school staff on the prevention of trafficking of children.
Groups fighting human trafficking applauded the move. Creating awareness through education is a tactic many of these advocates have found effective in combating trafficking.
“We are grateful for any new legislation that helps this issue,” said Patrick McKenna, co-founder of the Virginia Beach Justice Initiative. “Having the Department of Education require it helps push the effort forward.”
Virginia is home to several nonprofits that fight human trafficking. Many of these groups and individuals were instrumental in persuading the General Assembly to adopt the legislation. McKenna, an attorney, worked with Del. James Leftwich of Chesapeake to draft the bill.
“We are willing to help with extra manpower and extra information for no cost,” said McKenna, whose group works to prevent human trafficking and to identify and assist victims in Hampton Roads.
HB 2282 is essentially an extension of a 2012 law, Senate Bill 259. That legislation required the state Board of Education, with assistance from the Department of Social Services, to provide awareness and training materials for local school division staff on human trafficking. The new law specifies which school professionals must be trained and creates an actual training program, not just materials.
HB 2282 is only a small step, however. McKenna noted that the bill does not set a timeframe for developing the guidelines or explain what the training must cover.
“How the law is implemented is just as important as it being passed,” said Jessica Willis, executive director of the Richmond Justice Initiative, a group related to McKenna’s.
To read the full story by Carolanne Wilson, VCU Capital News Service, on ABC 8 WRIC: Click Here