The Western Fairfax County Women’s Club (WFCWC) hosted a meeting April 18 on “Human Trafficking in Northern Virginia.” Deepa Patel, executive director of Trauma and Hope in Springfield, is a licensed clinical social worker certifiably specialized as a sex offender treatment provider. She is also a gang specialist through the National Gang Crime Research Center. She came to Cale Community Center in Chantilly to address the issue of human trafficking and the efforts they’re doing for victims of trafficking.
Many facts came to light from her presentation, some garnered gasps from the audience while leaving others in horrific silence. In Northern Virginia a staggering 300,000 people under the age of 18 are involved in sex trafficking, with victims as young as 12 years old. We were told that sex trafficking isn’t like what you see in the movies such as “Taken,” with Liam Neeson saving his daughter from kidnappers in the sex trade. In most cases it usually begins with relationships, where youths are groomed into the lifestyle. It starts out as a normal relationship, lovey dovey, everything is going great, but then the trafficker starts instilling fear into them by whatever means, whether they’re threatened or beaten. The victim is also led to believe that they owe their trafficker, they’re indebted to them. So they’re pulled into the trade by coercion and lies. A girl was involved with an older guy who was trafficking her right under her parent’s nose. He showed himself as the model boyfriend, addressing them respectfully, having their daughter home on time, and the parents had no idea she was being trafficked. The mean age of girls being trafficked in Northern Virginia is 15 years old. Our stereotypical judgment manipulates us into thinking that this kind of thing only happens to poor people, or those who choose it. The girl whose example given earlier came from a well-to-do home, they lived in a good neighborhood, no one would suspect her of being victimized like that.
We also see this stereotypical view in gangs, which is also a problem in Fairfax County. Patel elaborated on her work with gang members. Research shows that youths want to join gangs for relationships. It could be that they’re not accepted at home or are being bullied, so they look for people who can relate to them and not judge them. Gangs are looking to make a profit. Patel says it’s a lot harder to hide a kilo of cocaine in the back seat than it is to drive around a 15-year-old girl where you can groom and get her to say and do whatever you want. So the profit is there for them, therefore we see gangs opt more for sex trafficking. Patel also explained that there are certain hours for trafficking, which is Monday through Friday, 3 - 6 p.m., and Saturday to Sunday, 12 - 6 p.m.
Patel has worked with many individuals, and continues to do so in Fairfax County. She is often sought out both nationally and internationally to provide training and education for gang-involved youth, sexual exploitation and sex offenders.