Virginia has now moved from worst to first on a new poll ranking states on how well they are battling human trafficking.
The Polaris Project credits Virginia's new get tough laws with its jump into the top category.
Barbara Amaya wishes they were on the books when she was a 13 year old runaway from a sprawling Fairfax subdivision plucked off the street in DC and forced into a life of sex, crime, and trying to survive.
“I ran away from home the summer I turned 12 and basically became a target for human traffickers, "Amaya says,
Amaya was picked up by a man and woman who groomed her as a prostitute and trafficked her in DC for weeks, and then at the corner of 14th and I Street NW, it got worse.
“They sold me to a trafficker, who took me to New York, and for the next nine years, he trafficked me there, " she says.
It was a struggle just to survive.
“I’ve been stabbed, I've been shot, thrown down steps, thrown out of cars. And I can't tell you
how many times I was raped, “Amaya says.
A counselor at a methadone treatment center where she went for help with her heroin addiction offered a way out.
“Something inside me said you want to live, you're not meant to die," she says.
Keeping people out of that type of life is what the Polaris Project is all about. For the last four years, the Project has been ranking states on their trafficking laws and victim assistance programs.
Virginia is on the way up.
“In 2010, Virginia was ranked in the bottom tier, the so-called dirty dozen," Britanny Vanderhoof, of the Polaris Project said. "But this year, Virginia has surged to the top of the rankings."
Virginia has made it a felony to solicit sex from a minor. The state is mandating additional training for police to recognize trafficking activity, and it's requiring educational programs for schools too.
It took Amaya 40 years to break her silence. She's now written a graphic novel that she hopes to get in Virginia schools soon to help young people avoid the life she lived and almost died for.
“I’m happy with the progress Virginia has made, but I just think there needs to be even more progress," Amaya says.
She's been working with some Virginia legislators to try and get a law on the books allowing human trafficking victims to vacate the crimes they were forced to do by their pimps from their records. She lost a great federal job after they saw her record from New York, crimes committed as a teenager held against her will.
Amaya's just gotten some good news, a court date later this month to try and get her record wiped clean.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center has a 24 hours, 7 days a week hotline for tips about human trafficking and for victims who want a way out.
That number is 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733)
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