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Human trafficking can happen anywhere, including West Virginia

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(WTRF) – It can happen anywhere. 

Big cities. Small towns.

In places where we don’t expect it. 

Authorities want you to know human trafficking isn’t a myth. 

It can be your next door neighbor selling their child for sex um for a case of beer. That’s trafficking. 

Andrew Cogar, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia

Authorities say make no mistake, human trafficking is happening here. 

Human trafficking is very much present in West Virginia and in the Northern part of the state specifically. 

Andrew Cogar, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia

It doesn’t look the way many people think.

It’s not strangers in vans kidnapping people in parking lots like you see on social media. Authorities say there’s very little evidence of that. 

It’s usually subtle, and people the victims know. 

They’re people who exploit some kind of a vulnerability of a trafficking victim. Either their young age, a disability, poverty, a drug addiction or any number of vulnerabilities that they can use as a pressure point to provide labor services or commercial sex.

Andrew Cogar, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia

It’s that manipulation that makes it so hard for victims to escape or be identified. 

Cogar said victims are usually forced into action by physical power, threats and deception. 

Human trafficking victims either a) don’t really understand that they’re victims of a crime or b) they’re very fearful of coming forward and reporting. 

Andrew Cogar, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia

Normally when you hear stories about this the victims of the crime are associated with a number, but it’s hard to tell exactly how many people are victims of human trafficking. 

The U.S Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of West Virginia tells 7News there were 93 victims in the state in 2019, but that’s only the ones they know of. That’s more than the two previous years combined.

There are probably many more who are never identified. 

Across the country, Cogar said there were 10,000 victims identified in 2019.

With identifying victims already so difficult, it’s too early to tell if the pandemic made the problem worse. 

What authorities do know is that they’re concerned. 

There’s enormous concern among the law enforcement community and the service provider community about the implications with our current status quo with respect to lack of regular school attendance, of shutdowns of businesses and communities for periods of time. There’s no question there’s enormous risk, enormous increased risk for children in particular when it comes to trafficking.

Andrew Cogar, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia

So, they say educate yourself, learn what human trafficking looks like, and report suspicious activity. 

Not look at trafficking as some sensational, once in a lifetime thing that you read about every now and then in the news or see on television. It is a common local crime. 

Andrew Cogar, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia

Some of the warning signs include an element of control. For example, if an adult is not allowed to have access to their own identity documents, like a drivers license. Or, sudden promiscuous behavior that is out of character for the person. Authorities say people being trafficked are usually very secretive and guarded.

If you think you or someone you know has been a victim of human trafficking, there are ways to report it and get help. 

Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or the West Virginia State Police.

The West Virginia Fusion Center will also be able to help victims, or those that suspect human trafficking.

Information to learn more about Human Trafficking is available at the West Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force website by clicking here.

If you believe there is immediate danger, call 911.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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