Story by Kat Skeldon, MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — FBI Special Agent Ellen Duffy presented one specific occurrence of human trafficking involving a child in West Virginia Monday on MetroNews Talkline that ended successfully.

This follows a training event conducted Thursday by U.S. Attorney for West Virginia’s Southern District Will Thompson and U.S. Attorney for West Virginia’s Northern District Bill Ihlenfeld regarding the ongoing connection the state is seeing between human trafficking and substance use disorder.

At Thursday’s event they addressed that 80% of those being trafficked in West Virginia are under the age of 10 and are in the care of a family member. In addition, they said many of the victims are in foster care and are trafficked so their parent or family member can profit from drugs.

Duffy reiterated this ongoing issue of human trafficking in the state on Talkline Monday, which is any illegal exploitation of a person, but she said in this case, it commonly involves sex exploitation of children.

“In reality what we’re seeing more of unfortunately is parents and caregivers who are exploiting children that they are taking care of and making money essentially by offering them for sex,” Duffy said.

Duffy discussed an adjudicated case on Talkline which she had presented during the training session on this specific issue. She said the case that was recently taken up by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney for WV’s Northern District Office prosecuted a mother who was sexually exploiting her daughter to a man in exchange for money and gifts.

“First selling sexual pictures of the daughter to a male customer and then eventually driving her daughter to a hotel room for sex with that male,” she said.

She said the pictures in the case started when the daughter was in her pre-teen to early teenage years, and the sexual activity took place when the girl was between 15 and 16 years of age.

However, Duffy said this is one of the cases which fortunately has a happy ending.

“Fortunately in this cases the stars really aligned and the victim, the survivor really, was able to get a lot of support,” said Duffy. “She had the good fortune of having a wonderful guardian who had come into her live who had enabled her to come forward and share what had happened.”

She said the mother is set to spend 40 years in federal prison.

Duffy said, unfortunately however, these particular cases often don’t work out quite so favorably.

She said kids or even adults being trafficked typically do not have the resources to leave the trafficking situations and get the help they need.

However, Duffy said along with simply not having the resources to do so, victims also many times face shame and guilt over the notion of coming forward. She said this leaves it difficult for the FBI to place any specific number on how often this situation occurs, but she said it’s more than what people even realize.

“It’s very difficult for them to come forward and share that story, especially when that may be their only caretaker,” Duffy said. “So it’s hard for us to get any exact numbers or sense of it, but I will say, you know, we receive reports from the Human Trafficking Hotline and it’s not a one-off, unfortunately there are many, many people in our state in these vulnerable positions.”

She said, for instance, in the particular case she discussed, the child was attending school and the mother was going to work and it was kept out of the attention from anyone.

Duffy said while substance abuse is a common thread in relation to human trafficking in the state, she said there’s many other factors that play a role. She said similar to other forms of abuse, there’s typically an element of power and control the trafficker feels as motivation for them to continue doing it, as well as various issues needing to be addressed on the customer’s end who is paying for the services to occur.

Duffy said to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-378-7888 to report any suspected cases of human trafficking.