$1.45M federal grant to help launch human trafficking task force in Hampton Roads

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, along with local and state officials, announced Wednesday that a $1.45 million federal grant has been secured to help create a task force to combat human trafficking in Hampton Roads.

The task force will be comprised of multiple groups and agencies, including the Virginia Beach’s Samaritan House, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, and the Chesapeake, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton and Newport News police departments.

Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms says the focus of the grant will be on victims and restoring their lives. Nearly half the grant money will fund more beds, counselors and case workers at Samaritan House

“This type of activity is not welcome in our region. We are on guard and we will hunt you down,” Sessoms said.

The grant will reimburse local police departments for time spent investigating human trafficking cases, and teach officers how to better handle such cases.

The task force will coordinate long-term investigations to find the root of the problem, according to Michael Lamonea, assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations Norfolk.

“Human trafficking is nothing short of modern-day slavery,” said Lamonea. “Victims are often hidden, as we say, in plain sight.”

That includes in restaurant kitchens, farm fields, and homes, where people can be held as domestic or sex workers.

Virginia has had the 13th most cases of human trafficking reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline since June 30, according to a news release provided by Herring’s office.

Human trafficking thrives in Hampton Roads because the military, ports, and seasonal tourism workers all make it easy to move and hide victims without detection, according to Lamonea.

Although rehabilitating victims the focus of the task force, arresting and prosecuting trafficking is another priority.

“I want to be really clear we are also going to be relentless in going after those who engage in human trafficking,” Herring said. “It is a heinous crime. It robs victims of their dignity, their freedom, and unfortunately, in too many cases, their childhood.”

The task force is set to begin working in early 2017.