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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -
Experts say kids are being lured from their homes, and trafficked for sex, right here in Richmond.
Today, Governor Bob McDonnell announced great strides in taking on the problem of human trafficking. Four years ago, Virginia was in the "Dirty Dozen" - one of the worst states in the nation for this problem. Now the state has the highest rankings.
Thursday was a day of celebration for that growth - but also a recommitment to stopping the problem.
Virginia leaders say they've worked hard to make the change, with new policy, police, and advocacy groups, but there is still work to do. Experts say 100,000 American children are trafficked each year, 300,000 more are at risk.
"Traffickers are luring these kids from schools, from malls, from online, that's kind of where their playground is," said Sara Pomeroy for Richmond Justice Initiative. "Once they've tricked them into falling in love with them, to being their boyfriend, to going away with them, they at some point are flipping the switch and putting them into prostitution, into selling themselves."
And don't be fooled - it is happening here.
"Currently in our city and in our state, there are girls and boys who are being sold."
Experts say it's only a click away - tools like a smart phone, a Facebook message or tweet, could be a predator praying on your child. Because a predator could be this close, at the tip of our fingers, the experts say the battle is still on.
"We need to know that the ones being targeted are our very own kids," said Pomeroy. "The average age of entry into forced prostitution and human trafficking is between 12 and 14 years old, and you know, these traffickers, they're not targeting a specific neighborhood or a socio economic status or a color. They are targeting vulnerabilities."
In Henrico, a 15-year-old girl was reportedly forced to see 15 clients in just one week. Court records say she turned most of her money over to a man later charged with sex crimes. She had been listed as a run-away.
"This isn't the movie taken, this is something that is a process," said Pomeroy. "They are being lured. They are being tricked. The man that they're friending and talking to on Facebook could very well not be a boyfriend, but a trafficker."
The experts say a big part of the problem is demand. Just this year in Chesterfield, police arrested 26 "Johns" seeking prostitutes and other sex crimes.
The experts say in just four years, Virginia has come far, and today these leaders renewed their commitment to the fight. As part of that fight, Governor McDonnell also announced Thursday the first ever governor's summit on human trafficking - which will be hosted here in Richmond in October.
If you know someone who might be in trouble, there is a tip line you can call. The human trafficking hotline is 1-888-373-7888.
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