Groups Unite to Raise Human Trafficking Awareness

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- The U.S. State Department estimates that 27 million people around the world are victims of human trafficking.

Yet, the movement to stop this modern-day slavery is just getting off the ground.

Regent University's Center for Global Justice recently organized a conference to bring together both government and non-profit leaders, all working to combat trafficking.

The meeting is an effort participants hope will lead to greater collaboration and more resources in this growing struggle.

"There is an obvious surge of awareness and attention and efforts," Brad Riley, founder of iEmpathize, said. "I think that in a lot of ways it's in a pioneering stage."

Riley's social media non-profit moves others to take action and end child exploitation. As part of his presentation at the Regent event, he brought what he calls "trafficking artifacts," like a little girl's sandals found in a brothel.

Heather Sells spoke with sex trafficking victim Melissa Woodward about her experience, how she escaped, and what can be done to help others. Click play for Woodward's comments.

Those at the conference say the anti-trafficking movement is still very young, thus many don't yet fully understand the scope of this international tragedy.

"We haven't figured out how big the problem is," Riley explained. "We've started to catch a glimpse of it, and everybody's reacting, which is great. But, it will just take some time for all of that to flesh out."

"We're seeing it in the massage parlors. We're seeing it in the strip clubs. We're seeing it in the cantinas," FBI special agent Dave Rogers said.

During the conference, Rogers warned that trafficking cases in the U.S. are on the rise.

"Our cases are definitely increasing, but I can't speak to whether that's because it's happening more or because we just recognize it more," he explained.

Two-thirds of the FBI's trafficking cases right now focus on sex trafficking. The remaining involve labor trafficking.

Rogers said the sellers themselves are becoming more sophisticated.

"More organized criminal enterprises are getting involved in human trafficking," he said. "They're recognizing the revenues that can be made from this."

Steven Wagner is the former director of the human trafficking program at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

He said an upswing in kids being abused at home makes for a ready market.

"Traffickers say to kids, 'Come with me. I'll love you, I'll take care of you,'" he said. "And for a kid who's been traumatized at home, that's extremely attractive."

Those at the event working to stop human trafficking say what's needed next is better services for victims and better laws at the state level.

Attendees also looked at ways to combat pornography, which fuels the demand for this tragic crime.

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Heather Sells

Heather Sells

CBN News Reporter

Heather Sells enjoys reporting on a variety of issues for CBN News. Some of her recent stories have focused on religious liberties, technology, AIDS, overseas missions, domestic trafficking, and politics.  Follow Heather on Twitter @SellsHeather and "like" her at Facebook.com/HeatherSellsCBNNews.