Sexual predators eager to victimize children are threats everywhere, even in West Virginia. While sex trafficking, including that of children, most often is heard of in larger cities, we are deluding ourselves if we believe it does not happen here.
U.S. Rep. Shelley Capito, R-W.Va., suggested last week more needs to be known about the crime in our state. "It's occurring here. It's not in large numbers, but I don't think we have all the information as to how often it's occurring."
Capito's comments came during a panel discussion at West Virginia State University in Institute. Experts on the problem warned our state is not doing enough about it. Last year, Shared Hope International, an advocacy group for victims of sex trafficking, gave West Virginia a D grade for our methods of battling it.
As so often is the case with social services, coordination seems to be lacking in West Virginia's efforts to combat sex trafficking. West Virginia University professor Patrick Kerr described the system as a "patchwork of services."
Just last week, in reference to state spending against child abuse and domestic violence, we suggested state officials should look into how much good is being done by such programs. Too often, legislators merely approve spending when they hear requests to fund projects to fight social ills.
Two things ought to be done to fight sex trafficking in West Virginia:
First, as Capito suggested, we need to know more about how common it is.
Second, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin should establish a commission to look into programs meant to battle child abuse of all kinds, including sex trafficking. Questions about that include how effective existing initiatives are, whether some efforts are duplicated and whether best practices are being used.
One concern is that sexual predators seem to be using manipulation rather than force to victimize many children. During last week's panel discussion, State?Police Lt. Daniel Swigger told of an Indiana man who, presumably through the Internet, formed a bond with a gay teenager in West Virginia. Fortunately, before the man was able to come here to pursue his plot, police arrested him.
How often are such predators successful - but not detected because many teens who leave home are considered "runaways?" We really don't know.
Make no mistake about it: Vicious, evil predators are stalking our children. West Virginia needs to do more to safeguard them.