RICHMOND, Va. -- State leaders are taking steps to fight human trafficking in Virginia thanks to some extra money from the federal government.
You've probably seen the headlines on the news. Stories of women, girls and boys forced into a life of human trafficking.
There are more than 40 million human trafficking victims around the globe, generating annual profits of $150 billion.
Virginia, considered a hotspot, had the 4th highest number of federal prosecutions in the nation for child sex trafficking in 2017.
"The estimates that we have out there are shocking and the numbers are going up every year. They are never going down," said Faye Chelmow, founder of nonprofit IMPACT Virginia.
Chelmow, a local nurse, says human trafficking is a public health crisis, not just a criminal justice issue.
"We need criminal justice to fight this problem but we should focus on uphill solutions… to prevent this crime from happening in the first place," she added.
Recently the Department of Justice allocated more than $8 million for Virginia to fight human trafficking.
Money was dispersed to nonprofits and other entities to provide housing assistance for victims, services for minors and even a half million was granted to Virginia's Office of the Attorney General to support a task force.
"Human trafficking is a crime against a person. It's exploitation against a person," Chelmow explained. "It's using force, fraud and coercion to control a person completely. Physically and mentally and there is no safe way to leave."
Chelmow's nonprofit is partnering with VCU's School of medicine to develop a curriculum for medical students. It falls in line with their mission to educate healthcare workers to recognize red flags, respond to human trafficking victims, and be a lifeline.
"There are others who come in clearly with injuries caused by some sort of violence, is distraught, poor eye contact or always checking their cell phone as if they have to be in contact with somebody... so there are some obvious red flags that providers can look beneath the surface at," said Chelmow.
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text the word help to 233733.