VSP launches ‘Operation Safe Passage’ to raise awareness of human trafficking

Published 1:30 pm Wednesday, April 20, 2022

In partnership with U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Virginia Trucking Association, the Virginia State Police (VSP) will be conducting Operation Safe Passage, a high-visibility, human trafficking prevention and public outreach initiative. The operation begins Monday, April 18, and continues through Wednesday, April 20. Virginia State Police Motor Carrier Safety Troopers will be positioned at various truck stops, motor carrier service centers and rest areas across the Commonwealth to engage with drivers and to distribute educational materials to raise awareness about human trafficking.

“Preventing human trafficking and providing support to its victims have been a priority of Governor Youngkin and his administration since stepping into office in January,” said Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Bob Mosier. “I am extremely pleased to see the Virginia State Police taking an aggressive and active stance towards addressing what has become a global pandemic. Virginia has no tolerance for the exploitation of any human being, and is committed to apprehending, prosecuting and bringing to justice anyone associated with this crime.”

“With tens of thousands of commercial trucks and buses traveling through and across Virginia on any given day, this statewide initiative has extensive, life-saving potential,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “Commercial drivers can be our added eyes and ears when it comes to identifying the common indicators of human trafficking victims and perpetrators. This campaign is about putting an end to a very serious crime that intentionally preys on vulnerable adult and juvenile populations.”

According to HSI, during Fiscal Year 2021, HSI arrested 2,360 individuals nationwide in connection with human trafficking. From those cases, more than 720 trafficking victims were identified and offered critical assistance. According to Polaris, a nonprofit resource and advocacy center combating human trafficking, there were 179 reported cases of trafficking and 77 traffickers identified in Virginia in 2019 alone.

“HSI Washington, D.C. stands firmly behind our partners at the Virginia State Police as we engage in Operation Safe Passage,” said Special Agent in Charge Ray Villanueva of Homeland Security Investigations, Washington, D.C. “We remain committed to ensuring the safety of our community and the prosecution of those who attempt to victimize our citizens.”

“Truck drivers are uniquely positioned to recognize potential victims of this heinous crime and properly alert law enforcement when they witness suspicious activity,” said Dale Bennett, president and CEO of the Virginia Trucking Association. “They are family men and women, whose own children could be targeted for trafficking, so they’re able to talk to their peers and spread the message about human trafficking awareness. The trucking industry has a duty to help solve this problem, and we are committed to saving lives and protecting the communities we serve.”

State police troopers will also be conducting routine motor carrier inspections during the course of Operation Safe Passage.

HSI website lists the following indicators of human trafficking:

• Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations or houses of worship?

• Has a child stopped attending school?

• Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?

• Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?

• Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?

• Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?

• Is the person fearful, timid or submissive?

• Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep or medical care?

• Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to?

• Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?

• Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?

• Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?

• Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?

• Not all indicators listed above are present in every human trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators is not necessarily proof of human trafficking.

Anyone who suspects human trafficking is encouraged to report it by dialing #77 on a cell phone to reach the nearest Virginia State Police Emergency Dispatch Center or to call 911. Tips can also be submitted to HSI anonymously to the following toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423.