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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Education campaign aimed at keeping teens away from sex trafficking


Teen sex trafficking is on the rise in Northern Virginia, so Fairfax County Police, public schools, and the Office for Women and Domestic and Sexual Violence Services announced a new “Just Ask” prevention campaign Jan. 10.

The campaign, launched to coincide with Human Trafficking Awareness Day Jan. 11, is aimed at educating teens about the danger of being caught up in sex trafficking, which is defined as “the act of manipulating or forcing anyone under the age of 18 to engage in a sex act in exchange for anything of value (money, drugs, shelter, food, clothes, etc.).”

Police identify an average of two new potential victims per week, states the announcement about the campaign. Many people believe teen sex trafficking only happens to runaways or in other more urban settings, but in Northern Virginia teens are being targeted at bus stops, walking down the street, parties, shopping malls, and through social media. Sex traffickers do not discriminate; they recruit victims across ethnic, economic, and gender strata.

Most teens are unaware they are being drawn in and often don’t recognize the signs of manipulation until it is too late. Traffickers are not just gang members or “criminals.” They can be business professionals, family members, and classmates.

The “Just Ask” campaign also aims to encourage people to learn more how to spot and report manipulative recruiters. Anyone who observes suspicious activities that could be related to sex trafficking is urged to contact the FCPD Human Trafficking Unit, FCPD-HumanTrafficking@fairfaxcounty.gov.

The campaign includes age-appropriate videos that will be incorporated into the Fairfax County Public School Health and P.E. Family Life Education curriculum, a website (JustAskVA.org), a Just Ask Facebook page, posters, and plastic bracelets.

The Fairfax County Office for Women and Domestic and Sexual Violence Services will fund several prevention and education programs, including training sessions Feb. 5-6 for counseling professionals and Feb.10 for shelter and residential program providers. The goal is to better prepare personnel on the front lines to respond to human trafficking victims and survivors.

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