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West Virginia launches YOU CAN initiative to combat human trafficking

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia is working to get a better handle on the human trafficking issue by launching a new statewide initiative.

The West Virginia Fusion Center is teaming up with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to provide residents with a tip line to report human trafficking activity. It’s called the YOU CAN initiative.

Jack Luikart

“YOU CAN stop human trafficking one victim at a time,” Fusion Center Director Jack Luikart said. “This initiative is aimed at bringing awareness, education and resources to individuals regarding human trafficking.”

Luikart said tips will be sent to the appropriate authorities so they can intervene, investigate and take action.

To report a tip, residents can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, text “Be Free” to 233733 or download the See Something, Say Something app on their smartphones.

The state is also offering other online options. Residents can visit go.wv.gov/TipsHT or email wvfusion@wv.gov to submit a tip.

Luikart said two of their human trafficking analysts will be leading the effort.

“Their day-to-day duties are to seek out victims of human trafficking, people who are engaged in human trafficking and human smuggling. As a result of that, they created this initiative,” he said.

According to the Fusion Center, human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against their will.

If a victim is under the age of 18 and involved in commercial sex, they are a victim of human trafficking, according to U.S. law. The average age of minors targeted or victimized for human trafficking is 12 to 14 years old.

Many sex trafficking victims were once in the foster care system and many victims may not see themselves as victims or be aware of state and federal resources available to assist them.

Luikart said more people need to be aware of this issue.

“Human trafficking is one of the most under-reported, under-investigated and under-prosecuted crimes all over the United States,” he said.

Along with educational materials, the YOU CAN program also offers residents an opportunity to learn the signs of human trafficking and discuss those signs with those in their communities.

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