Michele Trampe (copy)

Michele Trampe of the Central Virginia Justice Initiative leads a training program in February.

A Fredericksburg organization is ramping up efforts to educate others about the signs of human trafficking—and to help victims of what’s been described as the world’s second-largest criminal activity.

The Central Virginia Justice Initiative, which has its office in Fredericksburg, has partnered with a Northern Virginia group to offer classroom programs for high-school students and to establish safe zones where those in need can seek help.

The local group also has volunteers available on weekends to answer hotline calls from victims as well as ongoing training programs for anyone interested in learning more about trafficking—the act of moving victims from one place to another for forced labor or sexual exploitation.

“We’re always around to talk,” said Michele Trampe, the group’s executive director. “We try to do whatever we can to reach people.”

The wife of Paul Trampe, a member of the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors, Michele Trampe retired in 2014 after more than 30 years in accounting and finance and made it her mission to inform others about human trafficking. She stresses that trafficking happens in small towns as well as big cities and overseas. She’s worked with victims who are local residents and graduates of neighborhood schools.

Virginia ranked sixth in the number of human trafficking cases handled in federal courts in 2017, with 33 cases involving 74 defendants, according to a report by the Human Trafficking Institute in Northern Virginia. The Free Lance–Star reported in January that local gangs have used prostitution and human trafficking for at least 10 to 15 years as a form of income.

“It’s become a very lucrative business,” said Detective Butch Allison of the Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office, “and it has less chance of them being caught.”

Police officers can easily spot dealers trafficking drugs or guns, but if a handler is traveling with a female he’s using as a prostitute, “it’s just a man and a woman driving down the road,” Allison said.

Trampe’s group of 30-plus volunteers aims to cut down on trafficking by making others aware of the way “force, fraud and coercion” is used to lure victims, typically girls ages 12–14. Traffickers often target the vulnerable, such as homeless residents, those in foster care or even teenagers going through phases of insecurity, desperate for someone to listen to them.

That’s why she believes education is vital, and her group has partnered with Just Ask Prevention from Northern Virginia to offer a curriculum to local schools. The 80-minute session teaches youth how to protect themselves by recognizing how a trafficker targets or “grooms” a potential victim. It also offers information on where and how to get help.

The curriculum has reached 160,000 students worldwide, including ninth-graders in Family Education Classes in Loudoun and Fairfax counties. Trampe’s group has presented the program to more than 1,300 students in the Fredericksburg region and is offering the class to any other interested schools or groups.

Likewise, she’s partnered with Just Ask to establish safe zones, such as churches, schools or counseling offices, where victims can go for help. To be designated a safe zone, 80 percent of the facility’s employees must be trained on implementing appropriate responses before they can display an emblem.

The partnership allows the two groups to leverage their combined resources, and that’s key “to winning the war against the world’s second-largest criminal enterprise, which grossed more than $150 billion in 2018,” said Bill Woolf, a former detective and current executive director of the Just Ask Trafficking Prevention Foundation.

The Central Virginia Justice Initiative has several training sessions planned in coming months. It will offer its prevention curriculum, geared toward high-school students, at noon on Saturday, Nov. 9, at Spotsylvania Towne Centre. The training will be held in the Spotsylvania Sheriff’s substation at the mall.

The group also will provide its general training class for those interested in being volunteers, from 6:30–9 p.m. Monday, Oct. 28, at New Life in Christ Church, 11925 Burgess Lane in Spotsylvania. It’s already trained more than 5,700 people, such as hotel workers or health and service officials, on the signs of trafficking.

For more information, contact 866/620-2889, ext. 1, or JusticeCVA@gmail.com.

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Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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