Building trust to better support survivors and enhance prosecution of traffickers

When the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force was created in 2017 in Southeast Virginia, participants expected to serve 10-12 victims a year. In reality, the task force has provided support to over 125 individuals in just three years, suggesting that system officials—like their counterparts across the world—had vastly underestimated the prevalence of trafficking in the region. And since Norfolk, one of the most populous areas in Virginia, is also among the state's poorest—21 percent of the city's population lives below the poverty line, double the statewide number—a large portion of the city's residents are vulnerable to human trafficking.

Pilot Sites Illustration - Wide - Transparent

Featured Story

The Office of the Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney (Norfolk CA) and its partner agencies have a long history of piloting programs and practices aimed at elevating services for victims and strengthening prosecution of offenders. Through their efforts, Norfolk became the first city in Virginia to implement the Domestic Violence Lethality Assessment Protocol, and in 2019, the Norfolk CA led the development of the state's first Family Justice Center.

Building off these successes, the Norfolk CA and its partners have turned their attention to human trafficking in the area. Upon an examination of its data, the Norfolk CA determined that the majority of known trafficking offenders have not been held accountable, while probable victims of exploitation have been convicted of prostitution and related crimes. During 2018–2019, only five of 26 human trafficking cases resulted in a conviction, but 80% of the 172 individuals charged with prostitution were convicted of a crime.

Recognizing this disparity, members of the Norfolk CA turned to the Just Exits Initiative to help them develop and implement a victim-centered and sustainable program to holistically address human trafficking. During this partnership, AEquitas staff and the Just Exits Advisory Council will work with the Norfolk CA and its allies to improve early identification of victims within the system, assess culpability through a trauma-informed lens, and develop strategies to bring evidence-based prosecutions.

The Office is committed to enhancing sexually exploited victims’ sense of safety and security, allowing them to feel more empowered to participate in cases against their abusers. Members of the Advisory Council will bring years of lived and professional experience to drive trauma-informed practices and help achieve this goal.

Educating square white large border

Initial Strategies

  • Providing training and assistance to aid prosecutors and law enforcement partners in identifying sexually exploited individuals
  • Collaborating with established and new partners to coordinate support and services for victims/survivors
  • Developing proactive evidence-based investigations and prosecutions that can survive without victim/survivor participation
  • Building a process for assessing the culpability of survivors arrested for crimes, as well as a diversion program that is informed by survivor perspectives and minimizes harms to victims in the system
  • Collecting and analyzing prosecution data to more accurately measure incidence of sexual exploitation

Leadership Team

  • Joseph Baron — Sheriff, Norfolk Sheriff's Office
  • Ramin Fatehi — Commonwealth’s Attorney Elect, City of Norfolk
  • Krista Fulton — Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney, City of Norfolk
  • Randy Gainey — Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice, Old Dominion University
  • Denise Gallop — Director, Norfolk Department of Human Services
  • Kathy Hall — Chief Probation Officer, Norfolk Probation and Parole
  • Albert Karpovich — Lieutenant, Norfolk Police Department
  • Jennifer Knowlton — Director and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, Chesapeake Forensic Specialists
  • Michael Maslow — Deputy Chief of Police, Norfolk Police Department
  • Theresa McBride — Director, Court Services Unit, Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice
  • Adriana Mirarchi — Homeland Security Supervisor, Department of Homeland Security — Immigration and Customs Enforcement
  • Michael O'Toole — Deputy Sheriff, Norfolk Sheriff's Office
  • Kristen Pine — Director, YWCA South Hampton Roads
  • Mechelle Smith — Director, Norfolk Criminal Justice Services
  • Ruth Triplett — Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice, Old Dominion University; Norfolk Re-Entry Council Volunteer
  • Ebony Valazquez — Human Trafficking Task Force Coordinator, Hampton Roads