Less than a week after Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Virginia Republican Delegates Tim Hugo and Barbara Comstock spoke in McLean about the growing problem of human trafficking in Northern Virginia, three young women were rescued from a Cleveland, Ohio, home where they had been held captive for 10 years. Two of the victims were aged 14 and 16 when they went missing while walking home from school and a job at Burger King.
That matches the profile of local teens who have been lured into prostitution by criminals who use them to generate up to $1,000 a day in profits. Contrary to popular belief, most of these victims are not runaways. They are the typical girl next door: American teenagers, ages 12 to 14, who live with their parents in the region's affluent neighborhoods.
Gang members and sex traffickers seek out emotionally vulnerable girls at school, on the Metro, at shopping malls and on social media sites and lure them with flattery and gifts. Threats of violence, drugs and alcohol keep the young victims quiet when they eventually realize they've been entrapped.
Sex trafficking of children is a growing crime. In March, Joshua Dumas pleaded guilty to prostituting juveniles in Herndon and other locations in Virginia and Maryland. At least 37 juvenile victims, some forced to have sex with up to 20 men a night, have been identified during the past year alone.
Rep. Wolf cited "credible reports of nearly 80 establishments, notably massage parlors, throughout our region," that exploit young victims. They're hiding in plain sight in office parks, shopping centers and along heavily traveled local roads.
The congressman noted that local law enforcement officials fear that the problem will only get worse with expanded gambling in Maryland, including the new casino planned for National Harbor. According to the non-profit Polaris Project, a sex trafficker with four young females under his control can "earn" up to $632,000 a year, which makes prostitution more profitable - and less risky - than selling drugs.
A bill sponsored by Del. Hugo, co-sponsored by Del. Comstock, and passed by the General Assembly will make it a felony to solicit a minor for prostitution when it goes into effect July 1. But the Polaris Project ranks Virginia 7th in the nation for human trafficking complaints, so much more needs to be done. And that includes more aggressive targeting of the customers of this vile trade.