After learning about the horror of human trafficking, Lori McKenna, a homemaker, and her husband, Pat, a lawyer, launched Virginia Beach Justice Initiative to battle sex trafficking in Hampton Roads. They, their three teenage children, and hundreds work tirelessly on addressing this hidden scourge.
Human trafficking is a fast-growing crime. Most victims are female, and some are minors. It’s often a migratory offense, with pimps and victims rolling into town, renting hotel rooms and advertising sex for sale on Internet venues such as backpage.com, then moving on to the next town.
Victims are often charged with prostitution after police stings, which doubly victimizes them. The McKennas are working with local authorities to correctly identify victims.
The McKennas’ group is working with Samaritan House, an organization that helps people fleeing domestic violence and homelessness, to designate a home for trafficked survivors. Only a handful of such houses exist nationwide. Lori McKenna envisions a place where survivors can learn job skills and get faith-based counseling.
Virginia Beach Justice Initiative has about 200 active members and partners ranging from students to professionals. They pray for victims, spread awareness and counsel survivors. In order to join, members undergo background checks. This year, the group has helped about 10 trafficking survivors with counseling and getting on their feet. In addition, they are developing guidelines with area law enforcement officials to train hotel owners about the crime and expect to start training later this year. The group has partnered with Release Me International, a local nonprofit that also raises awareness about trafficking and Regent University’s Center for Global Justice. Along with Regent, Virginia Beach Initiative will hold a Regional Summit on Human Trafficking on December 5.
“It’s nice to see people becoming aware and taking up the cause,” Pat McKenna said. “It gives us that shot of encouragement when you’re dealing with something so heavy.”
Learn more at Jennifer Jiggetts’ The Virginian Pilot article: Couple answers call to action over human trafficking.