National Human Trafficking Awareness Month: Charleston FBI agents say how to spot signs

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month
Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 3:53 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. It’s a problem worldwide that can potentially put people of all ages and demographics in danger.

The number of human trafficking cases in West Virginia is growing at an alarming rate.

The Violent Crimes against Children Task Force does hours of computer work, and what comes across their desks, they say most people don’t want to imagine.

“I don’t think that everybody could do this kind of work because it can hit so close to home,” said Special Agent Genevieve Baushke, who handles cases involving children. One of her main focuses is putting a stop to human trafficking, especially kids.

“It can happen to anybody, especially kids because children are just vulnerable,” Baushke said.

Supervisory Special Agent Tony Rausa oversees the whole operation. He says the problem of human trafficking in West Virginia and the country is overwhelming.

“Last year I think we were somewhere around 600 cases nationally, and now we’re at about 1600,” said Rausa. “That is a massive increase.”

That is a 166% percent increase in the United States in one year.

Rausa says that could partly be because of increased awareness, and more people reporting when they see a problem.

That’s why January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

“It’s been an effort ongoing by the FBI for years to raise awareness,” Rausa said. “We believe human trafficking crimes in general have been underreported significantly over the last 7-8 years.”

“I think this problem is impacting the entire United States,” Baushke said. “It’s everywhere.”

Predators often make relationships with kids online, using different apps, social media platforms, and messaging sites to groom children or even lure them away from their homes.

Special agents say as technology progresses, the access to your kids gets easier, and the possibilities get more frightening.

“That is the nightmare of every parent. As a parent, it’s an extremely difficult thing to hear about and read about,” Rausa said. “When these guys come back and start filing reports and I have to go through them, it’s horrendous.”

“It’s sad because we need these applications to communicate, but there’s this underbelly. I think parents, grandparents, and guardians really need to start educating themselves and having open communication with these kiddos.”

How can we spot the signs of human trafficking? There are some descriptive words you can watch for in any person you come across, especially children.

Are they visibly bruised, withdrawn, suddenly violent, concerningly disheveled, or acting out when they normally don’t?

It may end up being nothing, but speaking up could be the difference between life and death.

“That’s probably the biggest crime right there, the biggest shame,” Rausa said. “Seeing something, you know it’s off, but you’re keeping it to yourself. You’ve got to get that information out there, you’ve got to get it to law enforcement.”

The FBI’s website has a “Safe Online Surfing” program that teaches students in grades three through eight how to navigate the web safely. Plus, how to report human trafficking or child exploitation.

To report online child sexual exploitation, use the electronic Cyber Tip Line or call 1-800-843-5678.

The Cyber Tip Line is operated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in partnership with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.