WHEELING – A discussion about human trafficking involving local law enforcement and social service providers is set for Wheeling next week.
The Office of the US Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia and YWCA Wheeling are partnering to present “Human Trafficking: An Invisible Epidemic” from 8 am to 4:30 pm Wednesday at The Highlands Event Center.
The YWCA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office offered a similar seminar six years ago, but the COVID-19 period has delayed any other discussion on human trafficking, according to Lori Jones, director manager of the Wheeling YWCA.
The YWCA partners with the US Attorney’s Office because it has access to experts in human trafficking cases, he continued.
During the session, attendees will get a lesson in “Trafficking 101” — what, and how, traffickers groom their victims, Jones said.
A representative of the US Department of Homeland Security will discuss international trafficking issues, while another session will focus on sex trafficking and how it occurs in the US and the Ohio Valley. A panel discussion will conclude the session.
Human trafficking is a growing problem in the Ohio Valley, but it’s not happening the way many think, the report says. said Jones. In fact, he continued, most victims don’t know they’ve been victimized until they talk to counselors.
Human trafficking is defined as “forced to benefit another person,” and locally the issue often involves drug activity, Jones said.
“The surprising thing is, yes, we’re seeing more and more,” he said. “When our program started six years ago, there were probably one or two or months of admission.
“In the last year, every month since July, we have seen 15 to 16 in each month who have been identified as those who are trading. Most of the time they don’t even know it’s happening. It’s better to know that it came to them through conversation.”
The YWCA Wheeling Survivors of Trafficking Empowerment Program (STEP) is dedicated to supporting survivors of labor and sex trafficking in West Virginia. YWCA Wheeling provides emergency housing, transitional housing, and legal and case management services to all victims of human trafficking – both labor and trade – including men, women, children, aliens or US citizens.
The STEP Program helps children and adults regardless of gender or gender identity to heal, find justice, and rebuild their lives, according to and the YWCA website.
“The U.S. Attorney’s office is great,” Jones said. “If anyone suspects that human trafficking is going on, they should call the U.S. Attorney’s Office and they’ll take you through the process, and tell you how to help.” to the victim by advocating for the victim.”
The US Attorney’s Office can be reached at 855-WVA-FEDS or by email at email@example.com.
YWCA Wheeling can be contacted at 304-232-0511.