ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) - A Roanoke-based ministry group is working to create the only shelter of its kind for girls rescued from human traffickers. Leaders say they still need support to help make it happen.
"The reality is that human trafficking is something that affects every single state and every city in our nation today," said Rebekah Marquez, Communications Director for Street Ransom, a branch of Straight Street.
Marquez said human trafficking is even closer to home than most people realize.
"We've seen and reports cases in Vinton in Salem in Roanoke," she said. "So it's definitely happening here."
Marquez said a national databases ranks Virginia as 6th highest in the nation for the number of reported cases.
"Virginia was the very last state in our entire nation to make laws in regards to sex trafficking," she said. "It wasn't until 2015 they criminalized sex trafficking. And because of that, traffickers have seen Virginia as a place where they can get away with their crimes."
That's why Straight Street is expanding.While Marquez has spent time educating the community - she also has sights set on helping survivors.
Since 2016 they've owned a home, in an undisclosed location, to act as an emergency shelter for trafficking victims between ages 11 and 17.
"I'd love to be open tomorrow or maybe by 1 o'clock this afternoon but that's not a reality," said Straight Street Director Keith Farmer.
He said they're taking their time, even though they know the needs exist.
"The goal is and its still our goal to be completely privately funded." he said.
Farmer says they need $2 million more to open the shelter and keep it open for at least three years. Farmer told us the FBI agents they work with estimate once it's open the shelter could house 30 to 50 girls a year.
"Even when Keith is gone out of the picture," he said. "The shelter is still there."
It's a future Marquez is ready to see.
"I see the hope of more and more people being aware so hopefully more people will be prevented from being trafficked," she said.