Monday, January 13, 2014

Money for Shelters: It's about time

Cuccinelli Requests $6 Million for Human Trafficking Victim Shelters

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by Shelby Mertens, Virginia Free Citizen
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is seeking the approval of the U.S. Department of the Treasury for $6 million to create shelters and counseling programs for victims of human trafficking.
One of the major issues with prosecuting human traffickers is the lack of shelters for victims once they are set free. A press releasefrom the office of the attorney general said criminal investigators have difficulty obtaining testimonies and evidence from victims without intensive counseling in a safe place.
“Human trafficking victims need these shelters and counseling services so they can sever their ties with the trafficking networks and work with investigators and prosecutors to help make cases against their captors,” Cuccinelli said in the press release.  “Victims often have no place to go – or at least no place to go that is out of reach of their captors – and no money.”
Cuccinelli said they also experience physical, emotional and psychological trauma that needs to be taken care of immediately.
The press release said Cuccinelli wants to use the money his office obtained from the 2012 Abbott Laboratories Medicaid fraud settlement, a case in which Abbott Labs pled guilty of criminal and civil liability from unlawful promotion of Depakote, a prescription drug that was not approved by the Federal Drug Administration. Virginia’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the attorney general’s office acted as the lead investigator. Abbott Labs agreed to pay $1.5 billion to the federal government, including $115 million to Virginia.
Cuccinelli has asked to transfer $6 million of the $115 million to the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services to initiate a grant program that would review proposals from local non-profit organizations to create shelters and counseling programs for victims.
Right now human trafficking victims are often placed with family members or in temporary shelters designed for victims of domestic violence or the homeless, making them unfit to properly meet the needs of trafficking victims. Many victims of human trafficking end up leaving the state and do not keep in touch with law enforcement, the press release explained.
Cuccinelli has made fighting human trafficking a priority for his administration, as he appointed a staff attorney as Virginia’s first anti-trafficking coordinator and created an anti-human trafficking initiative.
The Virginia Free Citizen will be monitoring the progress, as this initiative will transfer to the incoming Attorney General Mark Herring.
During the electoral campaign Herring included several anti-human trafficking initiatives on his website, such as creating “safe harbor protections for trafficked minors.”
A statement on the website read, “Trafficked victims under the age of 18 need special care that goes above and beyond mere placement into child welfare services. What Virginia needs is a statute that recognizes sex trafficked victims under 18 as victims of a crime in need of protections such as immunity from prosecution or diversion from juvenile delinquency proceedings.”
His campaign website has since been taken down, as Herring gears up for his swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 11. A spokesperson for the campaign said Herring will have more to say on the subject once he officially takes the reins and is fully briefed by the current administration.

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