Fighting Trafficking Here and Now
Fighting Trafficking Here and Now
Fans of spy thrillers recognize the term “safehouse” in rural Virginia. Since the 1950s, this recurring theme has been based upon reality, as many Loudoun-Clarke-Fauquier residents might know.
While the Virginia “safehouse” is no longer used, another global program operates in our own backyard, under the radar and without notoriety. It’s all about the children.
“Human trafficking is not really on people’s radar, but it is real and growing” according to Middleburg Police Chief A.J. Panebianco. “This problem can be international and linked to organized crime. I know the work of Anti-Trafficking International (ATI) and strongly support it.”
Anne Basham, the CEO of ATI, identifies human trafficking as the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. Each year, it targets younger and younger children. She should know.
Basham served as senior advisor at the Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), the largest federal funder of domestic anti-human trafficking efforts in the US. She oversaw more than $6 billion in federal grants and projects for victims of trafficking, sexual assault, and violence against children and women.
In fact, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) estimates that one in five children will be approached by a trafficker at some point.
“Everyone is needed to help safeguard these communities and stop human trafficking before it starts,” according to Middleburg’s Matt Foosaner, a board member at NCMEC.
The pain of human trafficking is all too real to ATI founder Bill Woolf. In 2013, Woolf, then a Fairfax County detective, was called to a hotel in the middle of the night when officers discovered 17-year-old Emily.
While interviewing her, Woolf learned she’d been trafficked since age 14. She told him she’d been surrounded by counselors, school administrators, and parents who all knew something was terribly wrong because of her failing grades, acting out, skipping school, and substance abuse. Yet, no one ever identified her as a victim of sex trafficking.
Woolf asked her how that was possible and her answer changed Woolf’s life.
“No one ever asked me,” Emily said. “If someone had taken the time to just ask what was going on, I would have told them, but everyone was too busy pointing the finger at me for everything going wrong. I didn’t feel like anyone would understand me. I didn’t feel like anyone really cared or could help.”
From there, Woolf launched Just-Ask-Prevention. Under Basham’s leadership, the non-profit later became ATI.
According to Fauquier County Sheriff Robert Mosier, an ATI board member since 2019, “Communities and law enforcement can defeat human trafficking through education, prevention, and intervention.
“Emily never fit the typical picture many people associate with sex trafficking — a child abandoned, homeless, desperate, on the street….Now ATI brings together law enforcement, schools, and other groups to train professionals on identifying trafficking victims and on identifying the early signs of the problem. With everyone’s help, ATI will put an end to this evil criminal activity.”
Added Woolf, “A community trained in education, prevention, and intervention will stop human trafficking before it starts. Our children must be surrounded by support systems at every level to deal with this threat effectively.”
In 2018, Woolf was recognized with a presidential medal for his work in combatting human trafficking.
“ATI’s work,” Basham said, “resulted in the training of over 30,000 law enforcement and front-line professionals and led to the recovery of countless victims who otherwise would have remained stuck in their exploitive situations.” Go Green Middleburg | Fall 2021