RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It sounds like a problem that happens in a far-off place and happens to people you will never know. But experts claim that human trafficking impacts people right here in the U.S., even Virginia.
Sara Pomeroy is with the Richmond Justice Initiative, a local group fighting against the practice.
RYAN: Sara, thank you for being here.
SARA: Pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.
RYAN: First, as simply as you can, explain what human trafficking is.
SARA: Human trafficking is the illegal trade of human beings to the exploitation of either -- either sexual exploitation or forced labor, more popularly known as modern day slavery.
RYAN: These are people taken out of their comfort zone and basically used by other people for inappropriate things.
SARA: Sexual exploitation or sex trafficking and also forced labor as well.
RYAN: When you talk to people about this, are they surprised to think that in this day and age, this is still something we're fighting and it is a problem?
SARA: They're shocked. I really have to explain that just because fruits and vegetables are now sold at the 17th Street Market doesn't mean that slavery doesn't still exist. And this is a very moderate number. Approximately 27 million people are enslaved today around the world.
RYAN: And probably the bulk of this does happen in countries outside of the United States, but your group is trying to indicate people there's something that actually happens within our borders.
SARA: Exactly. Yeah, according to the State Department, approximately 7,500 foreign nationals are tracked into the United States each year, for the purpose of human trafficking. Now, also according to the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children, there's also -- and this is a moderate number, Ryan, that is there's approximately 100,000 women and children within the United States that are at risk for sexual exploitation as well, within our own borders.
RYAN: And part of the problem is we really don't know the volume of the problem, right?
SARA: We don't. There hasn't been enough research put into this. It's definitely something that a lot of grass roots organizations are working to end, so it's something that's currently being research as we speak.
RYAN: How big do you think the problem is in Virginia? You don't know the numbers yet.
SARA: The difficulty is there's no comprehensive law against human trafficking on a state level in Virginia, so we're definitely working towards that. I know that the -- we were a forerunner in that last year, an abduction law passed this year and another law basically having the ability of confiscating vehicles that were used for trafficking.
RYAN: All right. So this is definitely something we'll sleep an eye on.