Justice initiative targets human trafficking

Published: Sep. 13, 2023 at 2:09 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WVVA) - Gov. Jim Justice is taking aim at stopping human trafficking in West Virginia.

Justice has joined the West Virginia Fusion Center in launching the “YOU CAN” initiative, designed to bring awareness to the issue.

“We are going to attack this problem together and work to stop these bad actors and this immoral behavior in our state,” Justice said in the announcement. “It’s time for all West Virginians, all our agencies, and all our communities to watch out, report and support law enforcement so we can stop this disgusting behavior in our great state.”

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against their will.

Although Law Enforcement Officers are tasked with investigating human trafficking cases, West Virginia citizens are asked to help by reporting suspicious behavior.

Jack Luikart, Director of the Fusion Center, said being aware of the problem is a big step forward.

“Human trafficking is significantly underreported, partly due to lack of public awareness.” he said. “Since its inception in 2007, the Human Trafficking Hotline has received more than 800 calls, resulting in 550 victims identified in 246 cases in West Virginia. The available data might give the impression human trafficking is not prevalent in West Virginia - but that’s not true.”

Luikhart said it is underreported because it is not understood, and there is a lack of community awareness of these activities and reporting mechanisms, which is why the YOU CAN initiative is so vital.

“We thank Governor Justice and our partners for their leadership and support as we work together to protect all West Virginians,” he said.

The “YOU CAN” initiative provides WV citizens with a local reporting line. This information is relayed to the appropriate federal, state and local authorities for investigation, intervention and action.

West Virginians can submit a human trafficking tip online at //go.wv.gov/TipsHT, by emailing wvfusion@wv.gov, calling 1-888-373-7888 or texting “Be Free” or 233733. Dial 911 for immediate threats or emergencies. West Virginia has partnered with My Mobile Witness to implement a “see something, send something” reporting system that can be completed on a smartphone or other mobile device. All West Virginians are encouraged to participate in this initiative by downloading the free See, Send application from the App Store or Google Play. The user may submit tips for “Suspicious Activity/Human Trafficking” or “School Threat or Safety Issues,” and they may also request help for “Suicide or Addiction.”