Governor Inks Bills That Could Land Human Traffickers in Jail for Life
Three bills signed Tuesday intend to prevent human trafficking in Virginia
Tina Frundt was forced into prostitution at the age of 14.
She blamed herself for being raped and felt angry toward herself for not listening to the man she thought loved her when he told her to have sex with one of his friends. On Tuesday, Frundt, founder of Courtney’s House — a nonprofit organization committed to providing a safe place for child sex trafficking victims — was at the Washington Dulles International Airport to watch Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) sign three bills that would prevent human trafficking.
“I am just so happy they’re recognizing that Virginia has a problem with human trafficking,” said Frundt, who manages a staff of four at Courtney’s House, and one case manager. “We have a long way to go, but this is a start.”
Delegates, various law enforcement agencies from around Virginia and several nonprofit corporations that aid victims of human trafficking packed a conference room Tuesday at the airport to see the McDonnell sign the three bills.
House Bill 1893 is the most stringent of the three bills McDonnell signed Tuesday. The bill, trafficking of a minor, is reclassified as a class two felony now. A penalty of 20 years to life in prison goes to anyone convicted of abducting a minor for the purpose of manufacturing child pornography or prostitution.
McDonnell also signed Senate Bill 1453, which requires the Department of Criminal Justice Services to advise law enforcement agencies of human trafficking issues and House Bill 2190 which requires the Department of Social Services to develop a service plan for victims of human trafficking. McDonnell said between 4 million and 27 million people are said to be trapped in modern-day slavery around the world.
There are 46 states, including Virginia, that have specific laws against human trafficking, said James Dold, policy counsel for Polaris Project, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that combats human trafficking.
Del. Tim Hugo (R-14th District) had no idea Centreville allegedly has a problem with human trafficking. A father of four young children, Hugo said something had to be done about human trafficking in Virginia.
“You don’t think this happens here but it does,” Hugo said. “Sometimes these people get off with no charges.”
Loudoun County Sheriff Stephen Simpson said law enforcement agencies need help from the public and human trafficking advocacy groups to help identify potential victims. He said groups like Courtney’s House and Polaris Project feed information to law enforcement agencies that otherwise would go unheard.
“It’s very hard to get into this underground world of groups,” Simpson said. “The advocacy groups are the ones who give us the information to be able to prosecute the offenders.”
State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd District), who is responsible for part of Fairfax County, said she is glad to see initiatives that will provide services to the victims of human trafficking. She said she wants offenders involved in human trafficking in Virginia that they will be held accountable for their actions.
“We need to focus on the ‘Johns’,” Howell said. “We’ll prosecute and you’ll probably go to jail for life.”
Sara Pomeroy, founder of Richmond Justice Initiative, a grassroots faith based organization of modern day abolitionists committed to ending modern day slavery, said the three bills are a great step forward for Virginia. She said the bills were a result of a collaboration of advocacy groups, law enforcement and elected officials. The goal now is for all of the groups to continue to work together.
“The best way to handle this is to close all of the loopholes,” Pomeroy said.
Frundt said she gets three to five referrals a week from Northern Virginians looking for a place to help young victims of human trafficking. She said the 20 young women she’s currently helping regain their lives were trafficked by gangs for sex. Frundt said she is glad there are now tough laws that will possibly prevent human trafficking in Virginia. She said her program will continue to serve young men and women who have been victimized by human trafficking.
“I know their situation,” Frundt said. “We don’t have kids that run from our program.”