On October 10th, the WV Secretary of State's Office officially launched West Virginia Businesses Against Trafficking (WVBAT). WVBAT is a statewide coalition of businesses and business owners who will use their storefronts and facilities to raise awareness of the state’s “You Can” campaign against human trafficking.
To understand the role WVBAT plays in West Virginia’s campaign to end this evil requires shedding light on a deplorable side of modern society that we would rather not have to address.
But, let me be clear, human trafficking does occur in West Virginia. Sex trafficking and labor trafficking are both crimes that can be hidden in plain sight. Victims can be of any age, gender, nationality, or race. A trafficker can even be a family member or guardian trafficking a child in exchange for money, drugs, and other valuables. In some cases, a victim may not even be aware that they are being trafficked or know how to ask for help.
The “You Can” campaign prioritizes public awareness because knowledge is our greatest asset in fighting human trafficking. Businesses can support victims by providing access to potentially lifesaving information available in public areas they frequent. Information on what qualifies as human trafficking and how to seek or send signals for help may make all the difference to a victim who does not have access to, or is unable to use, a cellphone or computer.
Customers and employees of businesses who may be witnesses to human trafficking also play a role in combatting the problem. Being educated on the signs of trafficking could lead to a report of actionable intelligence to local law enforcement. Information provided to WVBAT business partners for display in their stores provides valuable insight on common indicators and how to submit a tip.
My petition to business owners considering a partnership with WVBAT is simple: if your participation can assist in rescuing even one victim in your community, is this not a cause worth championing? Imagine the incredible impact of every truck stop, hospital, grocery store, gas station, department store and hotel within the state becoming a force multiplier for identifying traffickers and victims. West Virginia has an opportunity to become a national leader in this effort and inspire others.
Membership in the WVBAT program is free and open to any business that is operating in West Virginia and shares a commitment to promote awareness of human trafficking. Upon signing up as a member, the business will be provided with a certificate of membership to be displayed; a packet of educational materials and display items for businesses to educate the public about available resources; and continuing training and educational opportunities to assist in the education and empowerment of those in our communities.
Please join us in fighting this evil. Learn the indications of trafficking, learn the signs of “help” by those being trafficked, and help spread the word that there are people and agencies willing to help.
For more information on WVBAT and how to join, visit our homepage at sos.wv.gov.
Mac Warner is West Virginia's Secretary of State. His office is responsible for the registration and licensing of more than 163,000 companies conducting business in West Virginia