Bill aims to fight human trafficking in VA; new shelter opens for victims

Published: Jan. 30, 2018 at 10:46 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 30, 2018 at 11:47 PM EST
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The fight against human trafficking in Virginia is happening at the State Capitol and right here in Richmond. There is a bill going through the General Assembly right now, as well as another shelter opening to help sex trafficking victims.

Jessica Neely is using her story in hopes of bringing change.

"I was born and raised in a pastor's home," says Neely. "I went to private school."

But when she was 23 years old, Neely says she was violently raped.

"With that PTSD reaction, I spiraled into the pornography industry," she said.

It was a world she worked in for years.

"I went to Hollywood and nothing in amateur pornography prepared me for the monster Hollywood is," says Neely. "It is human trafficking. It's a mental kidnapping."

Now Neely is an advocate for laws to fight human trafficking. She's in Virginia to support a bill proposed through the Human Trafficking Prevention Act.

House Bill 1592, proposed by Delegate Dave LaRock, wants to prevent trafficking by making pornography less accessible on the internet. It says any product that has the internet, like your phone or laptop, will have to install filters that block prostitution hubs, like, child porn and obscene material.

Opponents says this is an attempt to regulate the internet.

"The internet is not being regulated," says Chris Seveier a former JAG who helped write HB 1592. "It's the products that distribute the internet that are being regulated, and that's the difference with the distinction."

In order to get rid of the filter, you would pay a fee to the manufacturer, and some of that money will go towards helping human trafficking victims in recovery.

Across town on Tuesday, Bon Secours and Safe Harbor announced they are opening up a transitional shelter to help survivors.

"They can stay in the transition shelter as long as they need to," says Toni Ardabell, CEO of Bon Secours VA Health System. "There is no time limit. It's really the victim and the counselors will decide when the victims is ready to leave."

The biggest requirement victims have to have a job or be in school and save money. The hope is counseling will continue along with job training so the victim can have a steady job.

This is one year after 19 survivors have been helped at the emergency shelter, which includes around-the-clock counseling, substance abuse treatment and help with job training.

The locations of the two shelters are not made public for safety reasons.

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