Virginia Attorney General Miyares hosts human trafficking 'Call to Action' summit

Sex trafficking survivor Holly Smith shared her story at the summit and says she hopes for stronger resources and laws
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Posted at 11:20 PM, Aug 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-29 11:20:01-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Holly Smith was 14 years old, when a man she met at a shopping mall in New Jersey, convinced her to run away from home with promises of fame and fortune.

Smith said the man eventually forced her into prostitution. While law enforcement was able to track Smith down in two days, she says the devastating impact has left lifelong scars.

On Monday, Smith shared her story at a prayer dinner with Virginia lawmakers, non-profit leaders, and other human trafficking survivors, asking for long-term solutions and stronger laws to stop human trafficking. The event was also attended by Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin and the First Lady Suzanne Youngkin.

"It can lead to depression and anxiety, substance abuse disorders, mental health disorders and that can continue to make someone vulnerable to violence and exploitation," Smith told CBS 6.

Monday’s dinner, led by Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, is part of a two-day Human Trafficking Awareness Summit. The bipartisan conference aims to bring together human trafficking survivors, anti-human trafficking nonprofit leaders and government leaders from across Virginia to discuss the latest trends and explore new solutions for fighting human trafficking.

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, human trafficking affects between 150 to 300 victims every year in the commonwealth and internationally is the second leading crime behind drug trafficking.

"We've seen an explosion of what's called Familia Trafficking," Miyares said. "As we deal with the addiction crisis in this country, you have family members who are so desperate to feed their addiction, they'll traffic their own child or younger sibling."

Miyares says lawmakers plan to introduce several pieces of legislation this General Assembly session, including safe harbor laws for victims and stronger state laws for labor exploitation.

While 60% of human trafficking cases involve sexual exploitation, Miyares says 40% involve labor exploitation.

Earlier this month, federal and state authorities uncovered an operation involving a Williamsburg commercial laundry facility that had smuggled in 100 people, including children from El Salvador, to work long hours in poor conditions.

"It's prevalent, it's a reality, and so every Virginian can do their part by being part of the solution to stop human trafficking," Miyares said.

Smith, who is now a wife, mother, author, and advocate, says she hopes state lawmakers, medical facilities and non-profit groups will consider longer term resources for victims of human trafficking. She also encourages others to speak out if they notice something suspicious.

"I think this event is about a call to action so learn more and find ways to get involved in the community and stop all kinds of violence, including human trafficking."

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