United States Attorney Will Thompson announced new training videos related to child trafficking awareness and reporting in Charleston, West Virginia, on July 18, 2023. (Amelia Ferrell Knisely | West Virginia Watch)
School personnel and child protective services workers have access to new training videos that will help them better identify and report human trafficking to rescue victims.
United States Attorney Will Thompson announced the initiative Tuesday at a press conference at the federal courthouse in Charleston.
Thompson, who previously served as a judge in Boone County, said he had seen first-hand victims of trafficking in the state. It was often family members trafficking or exploiting children in exchange for drugs, he explained.
“It will truly break your heart,” Thomspon said. “It’s a real problem in West Virginia.”
Tony Rausa, supervisory senior resident agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, spoke at the announcement.
“The FBI currently has 80 task forces dedicated to human trafficking and child exploitation, and one of those is located in Southern West Virginia,” he said. “In the southern part of the state, the drug trade has very heavily influenced child trafficking.”
Thompson said that the videos, which are available free online for teachers and CPS workers, focus on how to respond to a child who needs help. More than half of the victims attend school while being trafficked, and two thirds of the children have been in the foster system or juvenile justice system, he said.
The videos include information and signs to watch for children with special educational needs as they’re more likely to be victims of trafficking.
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources recently reported that a few children who ran away from foster care in 2022 were later identified as victims of child trafficking.
Officials with the DHHR, school personnel from multiple counties, state education officials, law enforcement and West Virginia Fusion Center employees joined Thompson for the announcement.
Thompson said there has been an increase in child trafficking and exploitation in the state, but did not offer data at the press conference.
He encouraged all teachers and social workers to watch the videos.
“One thing has really stood out to me when I’ve talked to the victims in the cases we’ve prosecuted: they all say, ‘I wish somebody had realized this sooner,’” Thompson said.
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