Human Trafficking

When first responders, police officers and educators met earlier this week for a workshop on human trafficking in West Virginia, learning materials presented to attendees were not made available to non-attendees. Director of WV Intelligence Fusion Center Tom Kirk said the material was not available to the press or the public.

” … because we’re teaching police officers that, but a lot of that we’re not putting out to the general public because then the traffickers would correct those little things that we look for. Those red flags,” Kirk said.

Such reasoning may be solid, but the fact remains the public could be an enormous help in fighting yet another problem that has crept up on the Mountain State in recent years. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, more than 50 phone calls and eight online tips were made in West Virginia, regarding suspected human trafficking, in 2013.

Lara Powers, program specialist at the center, said the cases often seen in West Virginia involve sex trafficking of minors and adults. Labor trafficking exploitation calls are also coming in from all over the state.

Public awareness is crucial. Both organizations ask members of the public to call, if they notice suspicious activity, stressing the activity does not necessarily have to appear illegal to be suspicious. But perhaps officials should consider tweaking their learning materials a bit, in order to give members of the public at least a general idea about what should prompt a call. It is not always easy to recognize the elements of force and control that accompany human trafficking, particularly in a culture that increasingly encourages minding one’s own business.

West Virginia’s Intelligence Fusion Center should develop a modified version of the learning materials used during their workshop, so members of the public can do a better job of looking out for one another.