Va. teen may be victim of human trafficking

Published: Mar. 11, 2013 at 1:12 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 21, 2013 at 3:42 AM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A Virginia teen, missing since last Saturday, is now believed to be a victim of human trafficking.

Authorities believe 16-year-old Jennifer Romero has traveled from Augusta County to Arlington and throughout northern Virginia.  She was originally reported as a runaway, until police found out she was lured into taking off with a man.

Now as authorities try to save this girl, a new law, just signed off by Governor Bob McDonnell, gives police new hope in cracking down on human trafficking crimes.

Every time young girls like Romero leave one county and moves to another, current laws make it harder for authorities to investigate, capture, and prosecute in these human trafficking crimes.

"It's harder for a local prosecutor to prosecute under the normal rules because he focuses on what happened within one area one county," said Delegate Rob Bell from Albemarle County, who proposed a bill to help save young victims. "Everybody remembers being a teenager everybody remembers not getting along with their parents and having days when they can just get away and these predators pray on that they catch these kids at vulnerable moments, hey, I'll be your friend, it's a glamorous life get out of here we'll take you some place new and exciting, and before they know it they're far away no friends around no cash, highly dependent on this guy that makes them perform sex for money for other people."

It's a scary world and, in Romero's case, there's been one arrest so far: 19-year-old Mynor Franco-Depaz of Arlington.

Augusta County Sheriff Randy Fisher hopes the arrest will help unravel a 'spider web' that's hiding the missing girl.

"He's kind of like a fisherman he's got a hundred different hooks out there in the water communicating with different females and you just wait until one of them takes the bait," said Fisher.

The new bill will soon allow multijurisdictional grand juries to be able to cross-investigate additional types of human trafficking, bettering the chances of catching the criminals who prey on young victims.

"People think this is only in somebody else's neighborhood or in somebody else's community, it's not so and we are very concerned of the dangers it poses to the kids," said Bell.

This new law is part of a bigger legislative package to address human trafficking in Virginia. This one will become law July, 2013.

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