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01.28.15 -- Editorial: Lawmakers trying to make a difference in war against human trafficking

Unless you or someone close to you has been victimized or affected by the crime of human trafficking, its horrors might seem difficult to grasp. It can come across like one of those problems so insidious, so under the radar, that as much as we’d like to see it eradicated, the perpetrators are extremely adept at hiding in the darkness—just like the cockroaches they are.

But that is not about to stop lawmakers in Richmond from writing legislation designed to combat it. At least five anti-human-trafficking bills have been introduced in the current General Assembly session. Still alive are a couple of bills that aim to establish new felonies and penalties for those convicted of such crimes. Another would establish a commission to study the problem.

Last year as many as a half-dozen bills were introduced, but evidently the only one to make it across the governor’s desk called for specific guidelines for law enforcement officers to follow when investigating trafficking and identifying its victims. In most cases, the victims of human trafficking are forced into the commercial sex industry or coerced labor that is often described as slavery.

Several lawmakers, both Democratic and Republican, have become perennial patrons of anti-trafficking legislation, such as Sens. John Edwards (D–Roanoke), Mark Obenshain (R–Harrisonburg) and Adam Ebbin (D–Alexandria), and Dels. Timothy Hugo (R–Centreville), Jennifer McClellan (D–Richmond) and Ronald Villanueva (R–Virginia Beach).

Clearly these members have committed themselves to finding the proper legislative channels that will give law enforcement the upper hand in finding and locking up the vermin who would exploit the most vulnerable young people—those looking to escape troubled home environments, those who may already have mental health issues and those who can simply be lured away and taken against their will.

Virginia had the nation’s fifth-highest number of confirmed human trafficking cases in 2014 with 128. Across the country some 3,840 cases were reported, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

The center describes trafficking as “a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against his/her will.”

Trafficking continues in the U.S. and Virginia because it is seen by its transgressors as a source of easy money with little risk involved. Tougher anti-trafficking laws and harsher penalties can send a message via those who do get caught and convicted that these bad guys won’t be getting out, or back in the business, for a very, very long time.

That should be something the entire General Assembly understands. From the lengthy, bipartisan patron lists associated with trafficking legislation, many lawmakers already do.