Chamber breakfast speaker, Jarvis, explores issue of human trafficking

L to R: Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Peggy White; Sabrina S. Cox of Lombard Securities Inc., host of event; Danielle Hiatt, member of the Chamber’s Executive Board; Rebecca Jarvis, keynote speaker, Women’s Resource Center of the NRV, and Lisa Webb, Chamber of Commerce President. (Danielle Reid photo)

Human Trafficking. It’s not a topic we like to discuss and certainly something we don’t want to believe happens in our rural community.  But Rebecca Jarvis, from the Women’s Resource Center, has a passion for bringing awareness and subsequently being part of the solution to human trafficking in the NRV.

Jarvis was the speaker at the monthly Pulaski County Chamber Inspiring Women’s Breakfast on Wednesday, September 11th.  The breakfast, which was held at Claytor Lake State Park Water’s Edge conference room, was hosted by Sabrina Cox of Lombard Securities and catered by Lindy Mann.

Previous to her years of volunteering at the WRC, Jarvis worked as a software engineer doing investigations with global entities.   When a full-time position opened up at the New River Valley’s WRC, Jarvis accepted the job; but starting October 1st she will be transitioning as the Justice System Navigator in Montgomery and Floyd counties.  This position entails court advocacy to help trafficking victims in many capacities.

Jarvis says that people who have been incarcerated are highly vulnerable to traffickers.  She speaks with victims in a non-condemming way and does not want to put a “label” on someone.  Instead, she coaches them about healthy relationships especially with dating, family and friends.  This helps them to self-evaluate and “to identify relationships that are not healthy or good for me.”

Jarvis explained that “human trafficking includes sex trafficking as well as labor trafficking, and new legislation passed in 2019 factually changed how we look at trafficking.  Previously, trafficking charges were considered misdemeanors, but now they will be considered felonies.”

There are currently 25 types of human trafficking and there are differences in the tactics traffickers use to draw individuals into their exploitative enterprise/industry.  According to Jarvis, “In rural areas such as ours, sex traffickers will seek out individuals at risk (60 percent of them are women, 40 percent men) who may be drug users, victims of domestic violence, in foster care or below the poverty level. They will take an interest in them, possibly give them expensive gifts and befriend them.  The process is called ‘grooming’ and over time, as the victim begins to trust the trafficker, he gains control over the victim and exploits him/her.”

“Also, in rural areas, traffickers cultivate relationships with families who exploit their children for drugs, housing, food or money – close to 99 percent of human trafficking in rural areas deals with substance abuse,” says Jarvis.

The Commonwealth of Virginia is being pro-active in addressing human trafficking issues and will be the first state in the nation to create a public health framework addressing human trafficking.  Although still in the planning stages, Ms. Angela Alvernaz has been appointed the new State Response Coordinator for Human Trafficking.   Additionally, the Virginia Department of Education will be initiating a new program in the schools educating people in ways to identify vulnerable and at-risk individuals.

Through helping citizens become more aware of the risk factors, developing community relationships with schools, law enforcement and medical personnel, Jarvis hopes to educate the community so they can become part of the human trafficking solution.

The NRV Women’s Resource Center hopes to create a community free of sexual and domestic violence through services, support and education.  They offer emergency advocacy, emergency shelter and transitional housing, counseling, legal advocacy and a 24-hour chat line.

Those in need of services can contact the Woman’s Resource Center at www.wrcnrv.org or www.wrcnrv/chat    or by calling 540.639.1123.

To donate, visit or volunteer visit:  www.wrcnrv.org/donate  or call 540.639.9592.

By DANIELLE REID, The Patriot