Virginia House / Senate Vote Unanimously For Bills That Tackle Labor Trafficking

Lawmakers passed bipartisan legislation to better protect victims of labor trafficking, who account for a large portion of human trafficking cases in Virginia. Del. Mike Cherry, R-Chesterfield, introduced House Bill 633 to prosecute traffickers who have caused or plan to cause harm to individuals if they do not perform labor demands.

Any individual who has profited off of the forced labor of any person or child could be punished with a felony, according to the bill.

Labor trafficking is modern-day slavery, where individuals perform labor or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Methods can include debt bondage, use of violence and sometimes threats of deportation.

Commonwealth attorneys have the ability to prosecute sexual trafficking cases, but as of now, labor trafficking is not codified as a crime in Virginia, Cherry said. Prosecutors will be able to bring charges against sex and labor traffickers with the passage of the bill.

“About 40% of these trafficking cases that commonwealth attorneys are encountering are these labor trafficking situations,” Cherry said. “The commonwealth attorney has to then turn those cases over to the federal government to prosecute, which may or may not happen and it certainly takes longer.”

The proposal received unanimous support throughout each chamber of the General Assembly.

There are an estimated 27.6 million labor trafficking victims worldwide, according to the U.S Department of State. Domestic work and construction were the most reported types of labor trafficking in Virginia in 2021, according to the hotline. Most trafficking goes unreported.

“This is the type of bill that makes sure that everyone is going to be treated equally, that people aren’t going to be able to be used for labor or for the work of their hands and then not compensated properly and appropriately,” Cherry said. “We want to make sure that we are closing this loophole here in Virginia and that we are protecting all of our citizens.”

Linda Hawkins is CEO of Recover Hope, a nonprofit organization that fights human trafficking through education and restoration for survivors. The unanimous support for Cherry’s bill was amazing and made her proud, she said.

“They’re serving the most vulnerable people, our children and the vulnerable, our seniors and the disabled,” Hawkins said. “This can happen to anybody.”

Del. Shelly Simonds, D-Newport News, co-patron on Cherry’s bill, introduced House Bill 581. The combination of both bills will work well together to tackle trafficking crime, Simonds said.

Simonds’ bill requires commonwealth attorneys to establish multidisciplinary human trafficking response teams that meet at least annually to discuss protocols and policies. These response teams will unite representatives from schools, law enforcement, health care and labor unions to better address the impact of trafficking on people, Simonds said.

“I think the most powerful thing about it is bringing people together,” Simonds said. “We tend to be in silos.”

Young people are often victims of labor trafficking, who are forced into difficult manual labor jobs like roofing and working night shifts, according to the delegate.

“Society needs a well educated group of young people to be healthy productive citizens, and we don’t want these 15 year olds robbed of their chance at an excellent education,” Simonds said.

Efforts need to be coordinated at the state and the local level, Simonds said.

“We’ve got to come together to fight,” Simonds said. “There’s a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that is denying freedom to people in Virginia and all over the world.”

By Thailon Wilson / Capital News Service

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