The opioid epidemic continues to ravage West Virginia and it has changed the state in many different ways. That includes how human trafficking is happening in the Mountain State.
“I think in some of our more rural areas it can be kept under wrap basically for kids for years because no one even notices what’s happening,” said Kathy Szafran, CEO of Crittenton Wv, a residential care facility for young women in West Virginia.
In West Virginia more cases are appearing of families trafficking their own children for drugs and money, another epidemic linked to opioids.
“We’ve had situations where parents and grandparents are cooking meth and in order to kind of help improve their sales they’ll allow their daughters to engage in relationships with adult men,” said Szafran.
Cases of Human Trafficking are severely underreported and that includes cases of familial sex trafficking. According to Szafran most cases they see come out after the girls are already in their care. One reason these cases go unreported is victims don’t realize what has happened to them.
“Helping them understand that it’s not ok that dad allows the neighbor to have sex with you in exchange for his back medicine… Dads aren’t supposed to do that, that alone is traumatic,” said Szafran.
The answer to stopping these children from being victimized is complex. It can be hard to find out about these cases and many children are hesitant to tell on their own parents. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey hopes fighting the opioid epidemic as well as building stronger communities will help combat the problem.
“When you have an office which has six investigators you can’t catch everything and same with the local prosecutors, they may have one or two local investigators they’re not going to be able to find things. You need people in the community to bring these matters to our attention, to the local prosecutors attention, that’s how you change the behavior on this particular topic,” said AG Morrisey.
If you or someone you know is dealing with this issue these resources are recommended by the West Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force:
Shared Hope International
The Freedom Network
DHS Blue Campaign
Rebecca Bender Initiative
End Slavery Now
Help & Hope WV: