NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – A human trafficking survivor joined Newport News officials on Thursday to discuss ways to recognize and combat the rising crime.
The forum began around 6:30 p.m. inside the New Beech Grove Baptist Church. A small but engaged group of residents came out to hear the survival story of Tanya Street.
Street, now a Hampton Roads resident, was lured into human trafficking by a boyfriend roughly 20 years ago. She spent nearly two years on the streets.
“I just saw myself as a person who wanted to be loved,” said Street.
Police told 10 On Your Side that victims aren’t normally forced into human trafficking but are rather manipulated. “Pimps” prey on people who are young and vulnerable. Victims are oftentimes runaways or drug addicts, according to investigators.
“It’s not by force, it’s by fraud… relationship-building,” said Newport News Police Lt. Michael Hudgins.
“There are so many variables as to what makes you vulnerable to being exploited,” Street said.
Hudgins said that Hampton Roads is a “hot spot” for human trafficking. Just in Newport News alone, nearly 150 people were arrested for prostitution and trafficking crimes from Jan. 2014 to Sept. 2015.
Not all victims are from foreign nations, but rather from right here in the United States, Hudgins said.
In Hampton Roads, trafficking is seen online, in motels, brothels and massage parlors, according to police.
“We’re bringing on non-profits and advocates and service providers to try to help these [victims] get out of this situation and better themselves,” Hudgins said.
Hudgins told 10 On Your Side that victims often fear law enforcement, which makes it challenging to investigate.
“The biggest issue is trying to get the victims to trust the police,” he said. “We want to really help them.”
Street said that a police officer saved her from human trafficking. “Today, law enforcement are becoming more aware, being trained on what human trafficking looks like, understanding it, understanding the trauma involved,” she said.
Officials hope the forum will help people recognize and report human trafficking.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline is 1-888-373-7888.
The event was the third of its kind hosted by the Newport News Department of Human Services Neighborhood Leadership Institute.
For more on Street’s story, visit her website.