AP NEWS

AG’s office conducts training with Wayne County administrators

February 15, 2019

HUNTINGTON — When the subject of human trafficking surfaces, it’s often hard to imagine that in can happen anywhere at any time, including right here in the Tri-State area.

As part of his continued effort to target and reduce human trafficking, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey recently announced a collaboration with Wayne County Schools.

“Human trafficking is a crime that does not discriminate. Men, women and children of all ages can be victims,” Morrisey said.

“Equipping school administrators with the necessary skills to identify victims and eradicate this growing criminal industry is a crucial step in helping West Virginia reach her full potential.”

Senior Deputy Attorney General Robert Leslie presented to principals and other faculty from each school in Wayne County and said while West Virginia isn’t a prominent trafficking location, the issue arises through vulnerabilities that are particularly interwoven with the drug trade and drug addiction problems the state continues to face.

The increased rate of drug addiction, poverty and the large number of children in foster care make the state susceptible to human trafficking.

“It does occur here, particularly with, say, a drug-addicted family member who gives up someone else to cover their drug habit. Anytime you have that exploitation of a third party for commercial gain you have trafficking,” he said.

Leslie has conducted similar training sessions across the state with a variety of agencies, including law enforcement, but said he had never spoken directly to a room full of school administrators from the same area, calling it a great opportunity to inform those in the school system about warning signs and behavioral patterns that point toward trafficking.

“This is the first real chance we’ve had to work in depth with any board of education. The Wayne County BOE has been very gracious in allowing us to do this,” Leslie said.

“If you look across this room, we just effectively trained most principals in the county, if not all of them. We touched every single school and every potential students’ life.”

“Sadly, it’s inevitable that we’ll see problems related to human trafficking at one point or another,” Wayne County Schools Superintendent Todd Alexander said. “Anything we can do protect our students we’re going to do, and educating ourselves is a part of that.”

He encouraged those involved at the training to keep eyes open and alert for common signs of trafficking, including persons who appear malnourished, have unusual bruising, or have been tattooed or branded by traffickers. Leslie said the tattoos can often be covered by hair or in less obvious places but follow a pattern of consistency with designs such as money signs, bags or even names of their trafficker.

Trafficking isn’t always initiated by the lead trafficker either. Leslie said there have been multiple instances of kids recruiting kids into trafficking to gain reward or compensation for doing the outside work. In one specific case, the state identified a 12-year-old child who was actively recruiting for her trafficker.

Leslie told Wayne County principals and faculty to follow their instinct when it comes to reporting trafficking speculations and all are encouraged to report incidents or suspicious behavior to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

Human trafficking is defined as commercial sex or labor that is induced by force, fraud or coercion. It is considered the fastest-growing and second-largest criminal industry in the world today — second only to drug trafficking, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.