On Tuesday evening, the Richmond City Council recognized Human Trafficking Prevention Month with a proclamation to acknowledge people affected and bring awareness to the issue.
The proclamation, read by the City Clerk Pamela Christian, was the result of an effort from councilmembers Melvin Willis and Claudia Jimenez, whose districts have been affected by human trafficking, along with the Human Trafficking Task Force, neighbors, and community members committed to finding a solution to the complexities of human trafficking.
"The City of Richmond recognizes this annual event as it serves as a reminder of the global struggle of human trafficking in all of its forms. It is an opportunity to honor individuals, families, and communities that have been harmed, and a rallying cry to commit to working toward a day when human trafficking is no longer a threat to communities," the proclamation read.
Councilmember Jimenez thanked the human trafficking task force for their work and highlighted the proclamation's inclusion of labor as part of the problem of human trafficking.
"We want to make sure what we are doing trying to resolve and being able to provide support to those who are suffering from these and that is not just sexual workers, but its a lot of labor, that is also a part of the human trafficking. A lot of our undocumented immigrant community gets into these abusive relationships because of a language barrier, and access to information and services because of their legal status," Jimenez said.
Human Trafficking Task Force Director Katrina Natale said labor trafficking, in addition to sex trafficking, is prevalent in the community.
"This is an area we have a lot less traction," Natale said. "We really need the collaboration with government officials in particular to address some those fundamental systemic issues of marginalization that really feeds human trafficking."
Councilmember Willis said he witnessed human trafficking as a child while visiting Babs Dairy, a drive-through grocery on the corner of 23rd and McBryde, where his mother worked.
"My mom worked there for over a decade, and I was always there too. Ever since I was a kid, I have seen human trafficking from those being exploited. I've seen many different strategies that transpired from various sting operations to whatever could be done to mitigate the issue and it has still been going on," Willis said.
In parts of Richmond, human trafficking has moved from industrial and business areas into neighborhoods, leaving residents angry and frustrated as they deal with the daily realities of human trafficking viewable from their homes--and often on their property.
North and East Neighborhood President Jan Mignone grew up in Richmond and says human trafficking has always been visible on 23rd Street.
"It was always a long 23rd, but it wasn't quite in your backyard, which is where it is now," Mignone said.
The increasing problem has led to numerous gatherings and events focused on bringing neighbors together, fostering discussion, and developing strategies to help cope with the ongoing challenges the neighborhood faces.
Mignone asked the city council for their support, waiving fees and costs for events that get neighbors involved.
"It costs 100 to 200 hundred dollars to block off 11 houses, and would be helpful to do these [events] every month, Mignone said. "Human trafficking is from Garvin to McBryde and 24th, that's where it is. We would like the city council to help maybe wave some of the costs to get the barricades so we can do these more often."
Resident Linda McKee said she has seen evidence of human trafficking since moving here 20 years ago.
"From day one since I moved in, I've seen women out on the streets, and where 20 years ago they went about their business, recently it's much more rampant. People are much more bold, and the buyers are coming around a lot more frequently, basically every night," McKee said,
McKee said it all came to a head for her after seeing a sex worker succumb to injuries, dying in the gutter in front of her house a year and a half ago.
"Seeing Shiela Green pass away in the gutter, she was someone who was working on the streets, and it was just heartbreaking. I started reaching out to council people, the family justice center to see who cares about this issue," Green said. "It is hard to go from anger to compassion and understand that we are living in our houses, and these women are out on the street living a pretty hard life."
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