Draft resident wants to build sanctuary for sex trafficking victimsDec 01
Posted: Monday, November 30, 2015 12:00 am
STUARTS DRAFT-The numbers don’t look good. From Oct. 2013 to 2015, a total of 290 victims of human trafficking were identified in Virginia, according to the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force. Out of those, 115 victims were rescued from their respective situations. The issue is mainly in Northern Virginia, which has become one of the Top 10 areas for teenage sex trafficking in the nation, with the average age of victims between 12 to 14 years of age.
It isn’t as big a problem in the Shenandoah Valley, as Waynesboro police and the other agencies surrounding have yet to deal with a case involving sex trafficking this year. That’s why one Stuarts Draft man hopes to build a sanctuary in the area for victims, to help them recover from the situations they’ve had to endure.
“I just felt it was something the Lord wanted me to do, to go out and get a home started in this area,” Jimmy Thompson said. “There are very few places in the nation where minors can get help. There are more places for those 18 and up, because there are a lot less regulations.”
It’s a project the 55-year-old got involved with after hearing representatives from the group True Mission speak at a local church. True Mission is an operation based out of Bryan, Texas that provides a long-term home for victims of sexual trafficking, to give them a place to recover and rebuild their lives. After listening to the presentation and doing some research, Thompson felt called to get involved. He and his wife Cindy reached out to the organization, taking over as directors of the planned Virginia expansion of the operation. The group wanted to establish a home to help victims here, since so many come out of Virginia.
“Northern Virginia is a really bad hotspot,” Thompson said. “Last year, Virginia was fifth in the nation in sex trafficking of minor girls. Some people want to help, but it’s hard to talk about it. It’s not a good subject for some people to talk about.”
The problem in Virginia comes as part of the gang culture. Several gangs, such as MS-13 and the Crips, have already been busted for using underage prostitutes in Virginia. This is a money-making business. The International Labor Organization estimates that human trafficking brings in $150 billion worldwide. Would-be pimps and gang members recruit girls from social media sites like Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook, also setting up private pages that serve almost as virtual brothels. It’s also a problem having an effect right now. In October, an FBI sting operation saw five people in Virginia arrested, along with 148 others across the nation. In that sting, 149 teenagers were rescued, with the youngest victim 12 years old. Programs like the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign are designed to help crack down on human trafficking, but they focus mainly on arresting those running the girls. The Richmond Justice Initiative has lobbied for multiple bills to crack down on the problem, with the Virginia General Assembly adopting 16 of them since 2011. The Prevention Project is also in place in Virginia, working to educate teenagers about the promises these would-be pimps make and how to avoid them.
The problem is, when the gang members are caught, they go to jail, but the victims can find it hard to adjust.
That’s where Thompson and his wife want to step in. Their plan is to raise money and purchase property somewhere in the Valley. Then they would offer victims a place to stay, with no more than 10 total at the property at one time, using a setup similar to local missions like the Waynesboro Area Refugee Ministry. The girls would stay as long as needed, until they’re ready to go out on their own.
“We would bring them in one at a time, unless it’s an extreme case where you have family, like sisters, involved,” Thompson said. “We would have house parents living there in the home full time and help them get back to being teenagers. Places like Liberty University offer some high school courses online. We can work to help them get their high school diploma.”
The Thompsons are hoping to acquire a site between 12 to 15 acres, enough to build a house and also set up some pasture for horses, to give the girls some animals to work with and care for. As of now, they have about $18,000. Both Jimmy and Cindy are volunteering their time, so all of the funds go towards saving up to buy land. They’ve been working on fundraising for about a year now, with the latest donation coming in the form of a $3,500 check from Steve McDonough at McDonough Toyota.
“The biggest need right now is land,” Jimmy Thompson said. “We’ve had people offer to volunteer their time to help build a house, but first we have to find land to put it on. In Augusta County right now, you’re not gonna buy much land for $18,000. So right now, we’re just talking to people and praying someone’s got land out there to give.”