Law Enforcement Receives Human Trafficking Training in Wheeling

A recent change in legislation updated West Virginia’s human trafficking laws, and now the state attorney general’s office is training law enforcement officials about it.

Senior deputy attorney general Bob Leslie met with more than 45 law enforcement officers Wednesday morning at West Virginia Northern Community College. Officers and deputies from Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel counties joined members of the Ohio County prosecutor’s office for the seminar on human trafficking laws and how to recognize its victims.

The statute on human trafficking, Leslie said, was updated in 2017 to criminalize the trafficking of any single person, where the law had previously only identified the crime as trafficking two or more people.

“We know there are cases all over the state,” Leslie said. “We had an anti-human trafficking law in West Virginia that was poorly drafted and antiquated, and it didn’t have compliant definitions in it.

“You’ve got a person who’s been victimized through this process, and every crime victim deserves justice,” Leslie said.

Leslie instructed the officers on the nuances of the human trafficking law. For example, use of force or coercion on any minor in sex work is human trafficking, regardless of circumstances. He also elaborated on various scenarios where this might be applied.

In addition to sexual human trafficking, the practice also can involve labor more akin to modern-day slavery. Leslie recalled a restaurant in the southern part of the state which was recently found to have been using trafficked laborers.

“We do have labor trafficking in West Virginia,” he said. “There was a group of restaurant workers at a Hispanic restaurant in Wyoming County who were trafficking victims.”

Leslie said he hopes the training will help officers recognize victims of human trafficking.

Benwood Police Chief Frank Longwell said he was grateful for the opportunity for additional training.

“It’s great advice, we like it because it’s local and it’s very informational, especially on all the legislative updates on the law since it’s changed since last session,” Longwell said.

The Polaris Project hotline is available to provide tips or get resources on human trafficking. It is 888-373-7888.


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