BARBOURSVILLE — Human trafficking is on the rise in West Virginia and it appears to have a direct correlation to the opioid epidemic, according to an official with the "Just Ask Prevention Project."
Bill Woolf, executive director of the project and a retired police detective with the Fairfax County Police Department in northern Virginia, was at the Hampton Inn in Barboursville on Monday to train hotel workers, various law enforcement agencies and others in the region on the crime of human trafficking.
"Human trafficking has become the second largest criminal enterprise in the world and quickly growing," Woolf said. "With the opioid epidemic threatening so many in our communities across the country, the direct correlation it to human trafficking is a major concern."
Human trafficking is compelling a person to engage in commercial sex or forced, unfair labor. A sex trafficker is someone who profits from someone participating in sexual acts in exchange for anything of value.
"There are various types of human trafficking, and a lot of it is sex trafficking," Woolf said.
He said sometimes family members traffic their own children for money or drugs, but the problem is under reported. The National Human Trafficking Hotline reported only nine cases of human trafficking in West Virginia in 2017, but those numbers are expected to rise, according to Woolf.
"We do see a large tie to the hotel industry. Unfortunately, hotels do provide an opportunity for human traffickers to work in secrecy and they are banking on hotel staff not being trained to identify it," he said.
Woolf said prevention starts with education.
"Once the staff is trained and responds appropriately, then they can make that area inhospitable to traffickers," he said.
Randy Kveton, general manager of Hampton Inn in Barboursville, said after going to a company summit on the issue of human trafficking, it really hit home for him.
"I have three daughters of my own, so I want to know what to look for and how to identify human trafficking," Kveton said. "When we heard our company was going to bring this training to our hotels, we wanted others to be a part of it as well."
Woolf said one in seven runaways will likely be trafficked and the victims are of all ages, races and genders.
"Victims can be from any ethnicity, social or economic group, gender or level of academic achievement," he said. "The traffickers' targets could be your customers, co-workers, friends or family."
According to Huntington Police Chief Hank Dial, "Human trafficking is one of the most horrid crimes occurring in our country. Being untrained on what to look for could lead to us being unwitting participants in this atrocity. I encourage participation in this training in order for us all to be better able to protect the victims, our businesses and our community."
This program was sponsored by Guests Inc, the Cabell-Huntington CVB, the Barboursville CVB, and the Duffield, Lovejoy, Stemple & Boggs Law Firm.
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