By Rebecca Barnes
In a standing room only meeting at the McCourt building, volunteers, educators and elected officials attended a human trafficking symposium to learn about what is happening in Prince William County to help prevent and address Human Trafficking. Mary Ellen Smith is the Human Trafficking Prevention Specialist for PWCS. Previously a social worker, Smith coordinates the Human Trafficking Program for the schools. This program is in the middle and high schools, case management for identified victims and public awareness and education for students and community agencies.
Smith explained how predators use grooming to entrap minors, which include gaining personal information, giving gifts, offering a better life, and isolating the teen from family and other adults. She also explained the difference between trafficking and sextortion. Sexstortion is when an adult coerces a minor to produce a compromised photo of themselves. They then can use that photo to manipulate and extort the victim.
All of this can take a large psychological toll on teen. “Sometimes a student that is rude is actually defensive. There’s a lot of embarrassment and shame involved.” According to Smith,
Human trafficking is not limited to any race or socioeconomic level, according to Angela Alvernaz, former PWCS Human trafficking specialist, 2019 Alvernaz became the first State Response Trafficking Coordinator in Virginia. Her goal is to create a consistent systematic statewide response plan for local and state agencies and to stop the supply and demand for trafficking.
“I want encourage the people and agencies I speak with to start helping each other in a different way than we have in the past” she wants to create new ways to reach and identify victims, share information between localities and work with safety concerns.
What can you do to help?
For resources to work with your kids: https://www.pwcs.edu/departments/student_services/human_trafficking_prevention
To volunteer locally, gain information on getting help for sexual abuse or to donate ACTS: https://www.actspwc.org/
To report trafficking: Text the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 233733. Report missing children or child pornography to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) at 1-800-THE-LOST (843-5678) or through Cybertipline. You can help stop child trafficking.