HAMPTON ROADS, Va. — Julia Hubbard said she was forced to dance, do drugs and beg others for money after she said she was trafficked by an inmate partner for several years.
“I didn't want to do it,” said Hubbard. “He would drug me and sell me to secure business relationships.”
She said she had no control and called the situation degrading.
This survivor turned advocate says it wasn’t until she called the human trafficking hotline to help another woman that she realized she had been trafficked.
According to the latest numbers from the National Human Trafficking hotline - Virginia ranks 22 for the number of calls.
In 2020, they reported that there were almost 10,600 human trafficking cases reported across the country.
Lisa Kersey is the executive director of Freekind, a nonprofit that helps survivors.
Kersey said it is hard to hear some of the stories from survivors because some of them started so young.
Experts say people may be vulnerable to trafficking if they have an unstable living situation, have previously experienced domestic violence or sexual abuse, have run away, are involved in the juvenile justice or child welfare system, or if they are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
“It's not just people throwing kids or women in vans,” said Hubbard, “It is far more comprehensive and complex than that.”
Experts say that many times a trafficker knows the victim and expresses a desire to help them.
Predators are looking to make a profit and experts say it’s different than other crimes.
“If I sell you the guns, I got to go back and get more. If I saw the drugs I have to go back and get more but if I sell a person, I can sell that same person over and over and over again,” said Kersey.
To spot victims – her nonprofit goes into the local jails to help educate inmates on healthy relationships and human trafficking.
“It’s where many of them realize, for the first time, that they are victims,” said Kersey.
She said most victims of trafficking wouldn’t identify themselves as victims.
If a victim has been arrested, Kersey and her organization help them in court.
“We advocate for alternative sentencing to try to get them to healing and not just cycling in and out of jail,” said Kersey.
Her group also goes into 18 schools across Hampton Roads.
“At the middle school level, we really focus on self-confidence, healthy relationships, healthy boundaries, online safety. Those are the main areas of focus,” said Kersey.
Spotting human trafficking in the community can be very difficult. More businesses and groups are training their staff on what to look out for like the Virginia Beach Hotel Association.
President of the Virginia Beach Hotel Association John Zirkle said at his hotel they teach the front desk employees, housekeeping, and security guards possible warning signs.
“It could be an older gentleman with perhaps with young ladies, the young ladies don’t speak or may look like they are under the influence,” said Zirkle.
Zirkle said if they pay with cash or want a room near an exit, it could also be red flags.
“If you see someone hanging outside of the room and then you see multiple people coming and going constantly, it’s a sign to look for,” said Zirkle.
Experts said anyone can be trafficked, but they say people of color and the LGBTQ community are more likely to experience trafficking than other groups.
“There's this giant misconception that all trafficking survivors are prostitutes and drug addicts and it's just absolutely not true,” said Hubbard.
She said she is now working to help others.
“I still carry with me focused rage. I’m very proud of what I’ve done and what I’m trying to build, what I’m trying to create, and the awareness that I’m trying to bring,” said Hubbard.
Bringing awareness to the problem, while looking to spot it and working to end human trafficking.
Experts stress that human trafficking can happen to anyone – men, women, and kids.
They said a trafficker can be a stranger, but more likely someone the victim met or knows.
The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally, with hundreds of thousands in the United States.
For the National Human Trafficking Hotline, click here. The Hotline Number is 1-888-373-7888.