$6M push to help Virginia sex trafficking victims - NBC12.com - Richmond, VA News

$6M push to help Virginia sex trafficking victims

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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

There's a $6 million push in the works to help countless victims of human trafficking in Virginia. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has just revealed plans to use the millions to help provide shelters and counseling to young women caught in prostitution rings. The money stems from a Medicaid fraud settlement, which secured millions of dollars for the Commonwealth. This money would give victims a place to escape the web of abuse.

Typically, it's vulnerable or troubled women and children who are lured into forced prostitution. However, boys have been victimized, as well. Sex trafficking doesn't just happen to immigrants coaxed into the U.S., with promises of a better life, either. These victims grow up in Virginia, and across the country, some right out of our local high schools.

Holly Smith now lives in Richmond. She was lured away by a predator at 14 years old, when she lived with her family in New Jersey.

"I talked to him on the phone every other night for about two weeks. He developed a relationship with me, a friendship with me," said Smith of how the predator manipulated her.

Holly describes in her upcoming book, Walking Prey, how that friendship quickly turned dark. She ran away with the man who played on her insecurities. In just hours, Holly was swept into a motel room filled with strange men. She was forced to sell her body.

"When I realized what these people expected me to do...

I had honestly thought it was my fault because I had chosen to run away," described Holly of the traumatizing experience.

Holly was eventually picked up by police, and brought home. She's been advocating against human trafficking ever since.

Cuccinelli is continuing the fight against sex and labor rings, in Virginia.

"The overwhelming proportion of what we see is gang-run sex trafficking. Girls (are) recruited out of our own schools, own neighborhoods…(Predators, gangs and pimps) make these girls available many times a night, a weekend," said Cuccinelli of what he calls "evil that's beyond describable."

The money would create shelters and support for emotionally and physically battered victims. Richmond's Gray Haven agency helps those who've suffered in sex or labor rings.

"Right now, there's not one shelter in the state of Virginia that's specifically designed for victims of human trafficking," said Josh Bailey, co-founder of the agency.

"From the street, they need to have a place to go," urged Smith.

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