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Virginia’s top lawmaker maps out plan to combat human sex trafficking

Posted at 7:42 PM, Dec 19, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-20 15:07:58-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Police in Virginia are cracking down on prostitution. One local county’s campaign to cut down on the crime has yielded some positive results.

Henrico County has been praised in their efforts to fight human sex trafficking and prostitution with operations like Project Innkeeper--a heavy patrol of hotels and motels in the county. Over the past three months in Henrico County, 44 people have been arrested and charged with prostitution and other indecent crimes.

As one former prostitute explains, it's a lifestyle that they're lured into. Young women are promised riches and fame if they just come along for the ride.

"He said things to make me feel good about myself,” said Midlothian's Holly Smith, author of the book, “Walking Prey.” “Things like I was too mature for high school and I should leave to make money."

Smith opens up about 36 hours of her life in the early 90's--when she was forced to have sex at just 14-years-old.

"I made the decision to run away but within hours I was forced into prostitution in Atlantic City, N.J.," Smith said.

Smith was a victim of human sex trafficking--but there’s other forms too. Smith says labor trafficking runs rampant--all of it falling under what the Attorney General Mark Herring calls the bigger picture and bigger problem of human trafficking.

"This year, Virginia has the fifth highest calls to the human trafficking hotline," Herring explained.

The state’s response to the issue is rolling out an awareness campaign to combat it. Heavily traveled interstates, motels and hotels close to an international airport--all of which are a part of the raunchy recipe known as human trafficking--will be targeted by the campaign.

Herring says human sex trafficking is a modern form of slavery. Virginia's top prosecutor hopes billboards in heavily traveled areas and stickers on mirrors at rest stop bathrooms will raise awareness.

"It's quite possible a victim will see this and make a decision to reach out for help," says Herring.

And help is something Smith got pretty quickly--she's doing her part to help parents identify a potential problem.

“I published a book called “Walking Prey,” and the book addresses child exploitation and gives parents prevention tips and things to look out for," Smith said.