The 2020 Federal Human Trafficking Report revealed that Virgin Islands federal courts handled the highest number of sex trafficking cases than any other state in the United States on a per capita basis. V.I. Attorney General Denise George announced a collaboration with the national child protection think tank called CHILD USA, local and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as victim services organizations in the Virgin Islands to spearhead programs to combat human trafficking crimes that have plagued the V.I. for years.
This month, which has been proclaimed by President Biden as National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, is dedicated to deepening public understanding of human trafficking as well as an opportunity to denounce the individuals, institutions, and systems that enable and perpetuate human trafficking.
Human trafficking is also called modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of forced labor or commercial sex activity. The crime includes the use of coercion or deception to compel an adult to engage in prostitution or forced labor activity or to make a child or person under 18 available for the purpose of engaging the minor in commercial sexual activities or sexual servitude.
Traffickers use many means to gain control over victims, including grooming, threats of violence, threats of deportation, false promises of legitimate jobs, careers or training, manipulation and even seduction into romantic relationships that turn into coerced sexual activity or prostitution.
Although most human trafficking victims are women, girls and sometimes undocumented immigrants, it can and does happen to anyone regardless of gender or nationality. It is a highly profitable crime run by criminal enterprises or individuals. The crime often occurs hidden under the guise of a legitimate business or personal activity such as, in hotels, guest houses, restaurants, gas stations, streets, homes, strip clubs, private islands or residences.
According to the 2020 Federal Human Trafficking Report from the Human Trafficking Institute, in 2020, the V.I. federal courts handled the highest number of sex trafficking cases than any other state in the United States on a per capita basis when taking population into account.
Local victim advocate organizations such as the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix and the Family Resource Center on St. Thomas have been providing help to human trafficking victims referred by law enforcement agencies and individuals for many years.
The National Human Trafficking hotline received 51,667 reports of trafficking according to the Federal Human Trafficking Report. Despite the significant number of cases nationally and locally, human trafficking remains underreported. This means that sex trafficking victims in the territory may continue to suffer in silence until rescued by the Virgin Islands Police Department (VIPD), federal law enforcement partners, and local victim advocate services organizations.
Attorney General George said, “We want to empower Virgin Islands residents to recognize and respond to trafficking, while working jointly with the VIPD and our federal partners in preparing public servants to meet the needs of victims and stop traffickers. We must send a clear message that the Virgin Islands stand with victims and will not be a haven for traffickers.”
If you are a victim or suspect that someone you know is, please say something. Whether it is sex trafficking, forced labor, domestic servitude or modern-day slavery, call 911 or contact either of the following hotlines to make a report and to get help:
Women’s Coalition of St. Croix
340-773-9272 or https://wcstx.org/
Family Resource Center St. Thomas
340-776-7867 or https://usvifrc.org/
National Human Trafficking Hotline
1 (888) 373-7888
For more information on Human Trafficking in the Virgin Islands, AG George also encourages citizens to tune in to an upcoming webinar sponsored by the V.I. Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council (DVSAC) from 10 a.m. to noon, Wednesday, Jan. 26. People can view the webinar at the following link: https://www.facebook.com/vidvsac