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System-wide efforts needed in fight against human trafficking

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Chirping ducklings at the Restoring Ivy Collective center, a refuge for human trafficking victims, aren’t just cute — they’re calming.

Sex trafficking survivors can drop in at the Washington, D.C.-area center to hang out with animals, bake bread and create art.

“Therapy animals can be helpful; finding volunteering passions that aren’t triggering and spending time in nature are different things that can be healing outside of therapy,” according to Elizabeth Bowman, executive director and founder of the Restoring Ivy Collective.

Bowman said she was recruited into sex trafficking work when she was 17. She’s part of a group of advocates and lawmakers working to help human trafficking victims in the region. Bowman uses her doctorate in social service throughout her work.


Though local, state, and regional efforts have ramped up in recent years, data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline in Virginia show human trafficking is a consistent issue in the state. The hotline helps human trafficking victims and fields tips about potential sex trafficking situations.

More than 800 human trafficking cases were reported in the commonwealth from 2016 to 2020, although the number of cases decreased by 37% from 2019 to 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Numbers are not available for 2021. Statistics on human trafficking are underreported because it is considered a hidden crime, according to advocates fighting to end human trafficking.

Human trafficking takes place when someone forces, frauds, or coerces another person into labor or commercial sex activity, the Department of Homeland Security states. The crime primarily impacts women, according to the United Nations, although men are also victims.

There have been at least 1,546 human trafficking cases in the state since 2007, data show. The hotline receives hundreds of calls and messages from Virginia each year and has fielded more than 6,000 contacts from people located in the commonwealth since 2007, according to its website.

Mixed legislative results this session

Lawmakers introduced at least 19 bills to combat human trafficking in this year’s Virginia General Assembly session. Legislators introduced bills to help survivors erase past convictions relating to forced criminality, train employees to spot human trafficking, and allow some victims to get in-state college tuition rates.

There were some wins this session, according to Patrick McKenna, co-founder of Virginia Coalition Against Human Trafficking, but he stated there is still work that needs to be done.

Del. Shelly A. Simonds, D-Newport News, introduced HB 258. The bill will create an online training course for hotel staff to recognize human trafficking and report it. The legislation was set to become law in July, but the governor recommended delaying the bill’s effective date until 2023. Lawmakers will decide later this month whether to accept the governor’s recommendation.

Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk, introduced House Bill 283. The legislation, which goes into effect in July, allows the Department of Criminal Justice Services to create training standards for law-enforcement personnel to help prevent and recognize human trafficking.

However, McKenna was disappointed that lawmakers did not pass criminal record relief for victims and continued “to resist efforts to remove criminal sanctions against minors who are forced to commit crimes as part of their trafficking.”

Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler, D-Virginia Beach, introduced HB 579, which would allow additional court records to be expunged for sex trafficking victims. The bill was left in a House committee. Current law only allows the expungement of these records for prostitution convictions and keeping, residing in, or frequenting a bawdy place.

“Sixty percent of survivors have felony records that are associated with theft or forced criminality,” McKenna said. “In order to be able to break the cycle for many of them, in and out of the jail system and such, we’ve got to deal with those criminal records.”

Other bills also didn’t get a green light from lawmakers. Del. Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria, introduced HB 755, to create the Anti-Human Trafficking and Survivor Trust Fund to support victims and fund services that prevent human trafficking. The bill was left in a House committee.

Education is part of the fight against trafficking

While lawmakers can change laws to combat human trafficking, doctors can help spot it. Dr. Fidelma Rigby leads a human trafficking elective for medical students at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine in Richmond.

The class helps students understand the scope of human trafficking and how to recognize the signs and report suspicions to authorities. Doctors must learn to identify victims of human trafficking, Rigby said. She added that 80% of victims in a trafficked situation come into contact with a medical professional.

Lawmakers also need to ensure human trafficking victims can better access health care, Rigby said. There should be specialized clinics for human trafficking victims, Rigby said.

“They don’t want to be in a waiting room where other people would have free access to them,” Rigby said.

Even things like the common clinical practice of putting the patient’s chart on the door before the doctor enters, that anyone can see, can be frightening for a victim, she said. Medical practices might also consider implementing longer clinic visits for human trafficking victims and having social workers meet on-site with victims.

“Don’t just hand them the number of the social worker, have the social worker walk in,” Rigby said.

Rigby hopes VCU Health System employees will be required to undergo in-person training in the near future, as opposed to just an online course to help medical professionals better recognize human trafficking signs and learn how to approach victims.

The VCU School of Medicine and nonprofit ImPACT Virginia host an annual Medical Symposium on Human Trafficking, but attendance is not mandatory, according to Rigby.

Collaborations

In addition to educating medical professionals and the public on human trafficking, advocacy groups at the local, state, and regional levels are creating new partnerships to help end the problem.

The Regional Interdisciplinary Collaborative, with advocates from Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia, had its first regional summit in 2021. Advocates and professionals discussed their work around human trafficking, according to Trish Danner, regional outreach specialist at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and partner of the regional group.

“I found two things that were happening in our region around human trafficking, is that there were a lot of initiatives in our region that needed to be duplicated and improved upon, and there was a lot of reinventing of the wheel,” Danner said.

For example, states creating medical guidelines around human trafficking could reach out for advice to other states which already have guidelines in place, Danner said.

The next summit will take place on Feb. 8 and 9, 2023. The group plans to host workshops year-round in addition to presenting annually, according to Danner.

Additionally, Virginia State Police recently collaborated with the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations and the Virginia Trucking Association for an “Operation Safe Passage” initiative to detect, deter and raise awareness of human trafficking. State troopers were at truck stops, motor carrier service centers, and rest areas from April 18 to 20 to distribute informational materials and educate drivers about human trafficking.

Ongoing efforts and needed resources

Attorneys who are willing to do pro bono services and have experience in family and criminal law are also needed to defend human trafficking victims, according to McKenna.

McKenna has worked with four other attorneys on human trafficking cases. He is on a listserv used by attorneys to share ideas, ask questions and help with legal issues on their human trafficking cases.

The Statewide Sex Trafficking Response coordinator released a report in December 2021 regarding the state’s strategy to combat human trafficking.

The General Assembly created in 2019 the coordinator position within the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, to file annual reports and make legislative recommendations. Additional staff positions are needed to increase communication and assist local and regional efforts across the state, as well as funding for training programs, according to the report.

Other recommendations included creating a comprehensive state human trafficking data collection system to inform decisions and funding for training practitioners on the state’s human trafficking screening advisory tool. The coordinator also reported that arrests appear to focus more on individual buyers and sellers, and not target commercial sex trafficking.

Moving forward

Organized efforts, education, and resources can help prevent the number of future victims. But what survivors said they need is to be seen as more than the abuse they experienced.

It took Bowman a long time to share her story, she said. To combat human trafficking, people need a seat at the table, including survivors.

But survivors often get pigeonholed as “experience experts,” Bowman said, and they need to also be seen beyond that role.

“It’s not OK to say, ‘OK, you’re part of the team but only tell us your trauma and shut up the rest of the time,’” Bowman said.

By Monica Alarcon-Najarro
Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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New information technology and cybersecurity legislation goes into effect in Virginia on July 1, 2022

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RICHMOND – Starting today, July 1, 2022, new state laws take effect that impact information technology (IT) and cybersecurity in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The first piece of legislation expands the requirements for public bodies when it comes to reporting cybersecurity incidents. As of July 1, every state and local public body must report to the Virginia Fusion Intelligence Center all incidents that:

• Threaten the security of the Commonwealth’s data or communications;
• Result in the exposure of data protected by federal or state laws; or
• Compromise the security of the public entity or agency’s IT systems with the potential to cause major disruption to normal activities.

These reports must be made within 24 hours of discovering an incident.

Additionally, the legislation requires the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the Commonwealth to convene a workgroup of state and local stakeholders. The workgroup, which started meeting in May, is reviewing current cybersecurity reporting and information-sharing practices and will make recommendations on best practices regarding such reports.


“Cybersecurity is a priority of critical importance for the Commonwealth of Virginia, as is focused coordination of government of all levels and entities,” said Deputy Secretary of Cybersecurity of the Commonwealth Aliscia Andrews. “The implementation of this legislation provides a golden opportunity for us to connect, learn about our collective strengths, and be ready to respond.”

“Last year, we reported over 66 million cyberattack attempts on our systems in the Commonwealth. That’s a rate of 2.12 attacks every second,” said CIO of the Commonwealth Robert Osmond. “When we see the intensity and sophistication with which cyber attackers are carrying out these threats, we know that we need every resource available to strengthen our cybersecurity infrastructure. VITA looks forward to collaborating with our partners to help keep all our systems, ways of conducting business, and, ultimately, our services and our people, safe.”

The second piece of legislation transforms the Information Technology Advisory Council (ITAC) into a body with members from the private sector as well as legislators, increases the number of council members, and adds cybersecurity to the ITAC’s advisory area. Member appointments to the new ITAC should be completed soon, and the council is expected to begin meeting later this year.

For more information about VITA and its mission, visit VITA’s website.

The Virginia IT Agency proudly serves the Commonwealth’s 65 executive branch agencies, a workforce of 55,000 state employees, and 8.6 million Virginians. VITA connects Virginians to critical government services through information and innovation technology, infrastructure, cybersecurity, and governance.

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New law allows DMV to grant extended license validity to military and others

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Effective July 1, 2022, certain license holders are able to apply with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for driver’s license extensions of up to six years for military and foreign service members serving outside of Virginia and government contractors working outside the United States; and up to two years for those showing good cause for extensions. Prior to July 1, those extensions were valid for up to three years and one year, respectively.

“We understand the challenges faced by our military, foreign service, and government contractor customers with deployments and assignments keeping them on the move,” said Acting DMV Commissioner Linda Ford. “Similarly, we know that things like long-term medical treatment or caring for a loved one in another state can create hardships for any of us. We’re pleased to be able to work with customers in these situations to further extend driver’s licenses, giving them one less thing to worry about.”

The change stems from HB 540, introduced by Delegate Danica Roem (D–Prince William), passed by the General Assembly during the 2022 session, and signed into law by Governor Glenn Youngkin.

In all cases, customers need to complete an application process and provide supporting documentation in order to qualify for a driver’s license extension. Currently, extended customers can apply for the newly enacted extensions, up to the six and two-year limits, via the same application process they originally followed.


More information, including complete application instructions, is available at:

https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/general/#outsideva/military.asp (for military members)

https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/general/#outsideva/diplomat.asp (for diplomats)

https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/general/#outsideva/contractors.asp (for government contractors).

Customers who need information on hardship extensions may visit www.dmvNOW.com and click Contact Us.

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Governor Glenn Youngkin issues Executive Order reforming Virginia’s regulatory process

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Richmond, VA – On June 30, 2022, Governor Youngkin signed Executive Order #19 establishing the Office of Regulatory Management within the Office of the Governor to provide transparency, streamline regulatory management, and fulfill Governor Youngkin’s commitment to reduce 25% of Virginia’s regulatory burdens.

“Last year, I pledged to Virginians that we would remove 25% of the regulatory requirements in the Commonwealth. In the spirit of this objective, we have created the Office of Regulatory Management, led by Andrew Wheeler, which will create much-needed transparency and efficiency in Virginia’s regulatory process to ensure that we have a government that works for the citizens of the Commonwealth,” said Governor Youngkin.

The Office of Regulatory Management (ORM) will streamline regulatory activities across the executive branch and manage cross-departmental functions such as regulations, permits, and grants. The ORM will review all agency regulations and initiate the “Unified Regulatory Plan” by which all agencies will annually publish a publicly available list of all expected regulations for the upcoming year. This Executive Order also calls for tracking new regulatory requirements for each new effective regulation and reviewing all existing regulations every four years.

This Executive Order enhances transparency by requiring the posting of all proposed regulations on Virginia’s Regulatory Town Hall website. The new regulatory review process will require agencies to conduct cost-benefit and other analyses of their proposed regulations to ensure they are not overly burdensome on other public bodies or private citizens.


 

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Celebrate smart, safe & sober this July 4th holiday weekend

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Independence Day traditions include backyard barbecues, festivals, family gatherings, and fireworks. To keep all those living, working, visiting, and traveling through Virginia safe during the extended holiday weekend, the Virginia State Police is encouraging Virginians to play it smart and plan ahead to ensure everyone on the road is safe and sober.

“Summer days are filled with celebrations, vacations, outdoor festivals, and backyard cookouts, but no matter where your plans take you, please make safety your priority,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “With fatal traffic crashes on pace this year to mimic last year’s record number, I urge all Virginians to buckle up, eliminate distractions and never drive buzzed, drunk, or under the influence. Together we can make this Independence Day the safest on record!”

If planning to drink alcohol at a July 4 function, plan ahead and arrange a designated driver, use a rideshare service or taxi, or utilize public transportation to be certain you get home safely. Party hosts are encouraged to serve non-alcoholic beverage options, and to help prevent any guests from drinking and driving home from their event.

As part of its ongoing efforts to increase safety and reduce traffic fatalities on Virginia’s highways during the coming holiday weekend, Virginia State Police will increase patrols from 12:01 am Friday (July 1, 2022) through midnight Monday (July 4, 2022) as part of the Operation Crash Awareness Reduction Effort (C.A.R.E.). Operation C.A.R.E. is a state-sponsored, national program intended to reduce crashes, fatalities, and injuries due to impaired driving, speed, and failing to wear a seat belt.


During last year’s four-day Independence Day Operation C.A.R.E initiative, there were 12 traffic deaths on Virginia highways. Virginia troopers arrested 61 drivers operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs, cited 4,025 speeders and 1,434 reckless drivers, and issued 510 citations to individuals for failing to obey the law and buckle up. Troopers also assisted 1,550 disabled/stranded motorists.

With increased holiday patrols, Virginia State Police also reminds drivers of Virginia’s “Move Over” law, which requires motorists to move over when approaching an emergency vehicle stopped alongside the road. If unable to move over, then drivers are required to cautiously pass the emergency vehicle. The law also applies to workers in vehicles equipped with amber lights.

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DMV reminds Virginians to make a plan before celebrating this Fourth of July

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The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) reminds Virginians to celebrate responsibly and designate a sober driver before the Fourth of July festivities begin.

Last year, during the Fourth of July holiday period (July 2-July 5, 2021) there were 105 crashes, 56 injuries, and two deaths related to alcohol on the Commonwealth’s roads.

“Preventing an alcohol-related tragedy is simple – do not drive after drinking any alcohol, period,” said Acting DMV Commissioner Linda Ford, the Governor’s Highway Safety Representative. “Even one drink can impair judgment on the road. And if your holiday celebrations involve alcohol, be sure to designate a sober driver before the party begins to ensure a safe ride home.”

Celebrate this Fourth of July weekend responsibly:


  • If you are planning to drink at an event, plan a safe ride home before even arriving.
  • If someone you know has been drinking, do not let that person get behind the wheel.
  • If you do decide to drink, do not drive for any reason. Arrange a ride from a sober friend, a taxi, or a ride-sharing service.
  • If you are serving alcohol at your party, make sure all guests leave with a sober driver.
  • Everyone in the vehicle should be wearing a seat belt – it’s your best defense against impaired drivers.
  • Slow down and if you see an impaired driver on the road, contact law enforcement – your actions could save a life.

 

 

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Virginia’s annual crime analysis report now available on Virginia State Police website

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Virginia’s official and only comprehensive report on local and statewide crime figures for 2021, titled Crime in Virginia, is now available online at the Virginia State Police website on the VSP CJIS Data Analysis & Reporting Team page. Crime in Virginia continues to provide precise rates and occurrences of crimes committed in towns, cities and counties across the Commonwealth. The report breaks down criminal offenses and arrests by reporting agency.

Violent crime includes the offenses of murder, forcible sex offenses (rape, sodomy and sexual assault with an object per the FBI’s updated rape definition), robbery and aggravated assault. Overall, the violent crime rate increased in 2021 to 194.4 (per 100,000 population) from 183.0 in 2020.  There were 16,823 violent crime offenses reported in 2021 compared to 15,713 violent crime offenses reported in 2020, representing a 7.1% increase.

The following 2021 crime figures in Virginia are presented in the report:

  • The number of reported homicides increased from 528 to 562 (6.4%).  The murder/non-negligent manslaughter rate increased from 6.15 in 2020 to 6.49 in 2021 (per 100,000 population).  Victims and offenders tended to be younger males; 38.6% of homicide victims were men between 18 and 34 and 55.7% of known offenders were men between 18 and 34.  Nearly half (47.5%) of all homicides occurred at a residence/home.
  • Motor vehicle thefts and attempted thefts increased 3.8% compared to 2020. During 2021, there were 11,638 motor vehicles reported stolen in 11,249 offenses. In 2021, 7,589 motor vehicles were recovered (vehicles may have been stolen prior to 2021).  Of all motor vehicles stolen, 35.4% were taken from the residence/home.  The reported value of all motor vehicles stolen was $131,738,135.
  • Drug arrests decreased by nearly half (46.7%) with the largest percentage decrease in arrestees under age 25 (67.6%).  The number of reports of drugs seized decreased for nearly all drug types, especially marijuana (67%), due in part to decriminalization of possessing less than 1 ounce of the drug effective July 1, 2020 and Code of Virginia §18.2-250.1 being repealed July 1, 2021.
  • Burglary decreased by 8.3% between 2020 and 2021. In fact, burglaries and attempted burglaries have steadily declined over the past ten years. In 2021, there were 10,464 burglaries and attempted burglaries whereas in 2011 there were 27,872, representing a decreased burglary rate in the last decade from 344.24 to 120.89 per 100,000 population.
  • Fraud offenses increased 8.4% compared to 2020. Nearly 80% of victims (79.9%) were individuals while 11.3% were businesses. Nearly a quarter (23.2%) of fraud victims were over the age 65.
  • Of the known weapons reported for violent crimes, firearms were used in 82.1% of homicides and 48.6% of robberies. Firearms were used in more than one-third (38.7%) of aggravated assault cases.
  • There were 123 hate crime offenses, involving 106 victims, reported in 2021.  This represents a 35.3% decrease compared to 2020. Most hate crimes (69.8%) were racially or ethnically motivated. Bias toward sexual orientation and religion were next highest (19.0%, 8.7%, respectively). Of all reported bias motivated crimes, 75.6% were assault offenses (aggravated assault, simple assault) or destruction/damage/vandalism of property.

The report employs an Incident Based Reporting (IBR) method for calculating offenses, thus allowing for greater accuracy. IBR divides crimes into two categories: Group A for serious offenses including violent crimes (murder, forcible sex offenses, robbery and aggravated assault), property crimes and drug offenses, and Group B for what are considered less serious offenses such as trespassing, disorderly conduct, and liquor law violations where an arrest has occurred.


Per state mandate, the Department of Virginia State Police serves as the primary collector of crime data from participating Virginia state and local police departments and sheriff’s offices. The data are collected by the Virginia State Police Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division via a secured internet system. This information is then compiled into Crime in Virginia, an annual report for use by law enforcement, elected officials, media and the general public. These data become the official crime statistics for the Commonwealth and are sent to the FBI for incorporation into their annual report, Crime in the United States.

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