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Pandemic leads to rise in human trafficking numbers

Published: Jul. 30, 2020 at 5:47 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Thursday, July 30, people all over recognized World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.

The pandemic has caused a rise in human trafficking, so those who help with victims say it’s especially important this year to bring awareness.

Street Ransom is part of the Straight Street Ministry in Roanoke, and it’s focused on bringing the issue of local sex trafficking to the public eye.

“Human trafficking is exploiting someone for either the use of labor or sex, and they do so using force, fraud or coercion,” Rebekah Marquez, communications coordinator for Street Ransom, said.

Marquez wants the public to know people are sex trafficked across the world but also right here in Roanoke and in our state. The National Human Trafficking Hotline says Virginia ranks 16th in the nation for the number of human trafficking reports received.

“It’s happening in our own backyard, so I think it’s very important in our community to one, recognize that it’s happening, and also to know what the red flags are,” she said.

She says this year, trafficking is on the rise because of the pandemic.

“What we’ve seen is this has made so many more people more vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and even trafficking,” Marquez said.

Polaris Project, a nonprofit working to prevent human trafficking, reported there was a 40-ercent increase of trafficking in April 2020 compared to April 2019.

“Children are out of school, a lot of them are spending a lot more time online and most of that time is unsupervised, and because of that, traffickers have moved their work online. They were already online before, but they have definitely taken advantage of this opportunity,” Marquez said.

She says signs to look out for include a large age gap between a child and his or her partner, and if you notice someone is physically abused or disheveled.

Street Ransom’s director, Keith Farmer, also wants folks to know:

“Just don’t let this day be the only day that you recognize that trafficking takes place,” he said.

Copyright 2020 WDBJ. All rights reserved.

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