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Human trafficking and stalking can take on many forms in West Virginia

BUCKHANNON – Human trafficking is present throughout the country, including here in Upshur County.

Addy Helmick, a representative of Centers Against Violence, and Sandra Marfield, a sexual assault advocate with the Centers Against Violence, attended the Jan. 25 Upshur County Commission meeting to present proclamations for Human Trafficking Awareness Month and Stalking Awareness Month.

“A lot of people think that we don’t have to worry about human trafficking in Upshur County; they think it goes on in bigger cities, and it’s always portrayed like selling someone on the internet,” Helmick said. “But the type of human trafficking we have around here, around our state, is mostly family trafficking. For example, you might have a parent who has a drug problem, and they can’t pay for that drug problem, so they will use their child for that problem. [They will] maybe give that child to an uncle or family member or a friend who will abuse the child in exchange for money or that drug.”

Cities like Martinsburg and other locations on the West Virginia border are more likely to see another kind of human trafficking.

“Some of the West Virginia panhandles, like in Martinsburg, which is closer to Maryland and closer to DC, has more sex trafficking, where they sell young girls and they pimp them out,” Helmick said. “There is labor trafficking — immigrants come in, and people use them for work. People come over here thinking they are coming for the American dream, but sometimes that’s not the case, and people use them for certain labor jobs.”

Marfield said some of the most common places to see labor trafficking are in nail salons, restaurants, bars and other similar situations.

Helmick said stalking has been made easier through technology, and they are seeing more problems in schools.

“We’re constantly trying to figure out how they’re stalking, and it can be really severe and deadly,” Helmick said. “In high school, things are happening — we’re trying to get a handle on it, but it’s getting a little bit out of hand. Hopefully, somehow, someway, with the school system, we can find a better solution, but it is getting bad.”

The center has seen situations where a bad breakup turns into stalking through technology.

“We’ve had several students come in after they break up a relationship, and then the party can’t handle that breakup, so they’re stalking them online, calling them names and changing all of their classes into the classes of that other person,” Helmick said. “We’re having students come in trying to get protective orders. It just escalates, and there’s so much technology, so many apps that you can use to stalk people now.”

Here is the full text of the human trafficking proclamation:

WHEREAS, human trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of forced labor or sexual servitude; and

WHEREAS, human trafficking is a 32-billion dollar a year global criminal enterprise and is a crime as well as a civil and human rights violation; and

WHEREAS, the United States government estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 individuals are trafficked across international borders each year and exploited through forced labor and forced commercial sexual activity; and

WHEREAS, the US is a major destination country for international trafficking victims as approximately 14,500-17,500 folks are trafficked into the country each year. These numbers do not include domestically trafficked children and adults; and

WHEREAS, human trafficking is a crime that impacts West Virginia

WHEREAS, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 criminalized human trafficking at the federal level; and

WHEREAS, West Virginia passed anti-trafficking legislation in 2006 and 2007; and

WHEREAS, more awareness and education is crucial to eradicating human trafficking in our communities, state and nation; and

NOW, THEREFORE, the Upshur County Commission proclaim January, 2024 as Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

Here is the full text of the stalking proclamation:

Whereas, under the laws of all fifty states, the U.S. Territories, the District of Columbia, and the federal government, stalking is a crime;

Whereas, 13.5 million people are stalked in a one-year period in the United States, and the majority of victims are stalked by someone they know;

Whereas, 3 in 4 women killed by an intimate partner have been stalked by that partner;

Whereas, many stalking victims lose time from work and experience serious psychological distress and lost productivity at a much higher rate than the general population;

Whereas, many stalking victims are forced to protect themselves by relocating, changing their identities, changing jobs, and obtaining protection orders;

Whereas, more victims are stalked using technology – such as phone calls, text messages, social media platforms, internet posts, emails, and electronic tracking – than not using any technology; Whereas, there is a need for great public awareness about the nature, criminality, and potential lethality of stalking;

Whereas, criminal justice systems can enhance their responses to stalking by regular training and thorough investigation and prosecution of the crime;

Whereas, laws and public policies must be continually adapted to keep pace with new tactics used by stalkers;

Whereas, communities can better combat stalking by adopting multidisciplinary responses by teams of local agencies and organizations and by providing more and better victim services; and

Whereas, Centers Against Violence is joining forces with victim service providers, criminal justice officials, and concerned citizens throughout Upshur County and the United States to observe National Stalking Awareness Month.

NOW, THEREFORE, We, of the Upshur County Commission, do hereby proclaim January 2024 as STALKING AWARENESS MONTH in Upshur County WV and applaud the efforts of the many victim service providers, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, national and community organizations, and private sector supporters for their efforts in promoting awareness about stalking.

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