RICHMOND, Va. -- Evelyn Chumbow was nine years old when she was brought from Cameroon to the United States and then abused and forced to perform work without pay. Dawn Schiller was a 15-year-old girl living in Los Angeles when she was forced into sex trafficking and drug dealing.
The women stood side by side and shared their stories at a regional summit on human trafficking held at VCU Medical Center in Richmond.
They hope by sharing their stories they can educate others on what to look out for to help future victims.
Human trafficking, which includes both sexual and forced labor, is the second-largest criminal enterprise in the world behind drug trafficking.
"[Human trafficking is a] $150 billion per year enterprise that exploits human beings for peoples' own personal gain, pleasure, or profit," Attorney General Jason Miyares (R - Virginia) said about the global issue.
There are hundreds of reported human trafficking cases here in Virginia every year.
In fact, Miyares said the Commonwealth has seen an increase in people trafficking their own family members.
He blamed, in part, post-pandemic economic struggles for that rise.
He said one weapon we all have to help end human trafficking is our power of observation.
"So many of these cases are broken because somebody saw something and said something," Miyares said.
"You’d be surprised how many people turn the other way because they don’t want to get involved, they don’t want to have trouble," Schiller said. "They really are perpetuating the problem.
Chumbow and Schiller said that was why they found it critical that everyone knew the people who could be most vulnerable to human trafficking. A group that includes people of color, LBGTQ+ community members, and those who are economically disadvantaged.
"We don’t only need to see a picture that portrays one race, but a picture that shows the diversity of people that it affects," Chumbow said. "It can affect anyone, it doesn’t matter. Your mother, your sister, your auntie, your uncle can be a victim of human trafficking."
"There are no checked boxes on what human trafficking is. If you see something that looks not right, ask more questions," Schiller added.
Survivors often face a lifetime of mental and emotional pain. Just like the solution, they said the impact of human trafficking was a community problem.
"There were so many people who came to my trafficker's house who saw things but didn’t say anything," Chumbow said
"The toll reaches everybody, not just the survivors," Schiller said. "It affects our children, it affects our parents, it affects our siblings, it affects our educators, it affects our community. We all end up being responsible for that person. We all have to have a personal commitment to taking care of them.”
To report an incident, you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline 24 hours a day at 888-373-7888. You can also call and text #77 to report situations to Virginia State Police.
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