By Steve Neill, Of The Catholic Virginian

Bon Secours Richmond Health System and Safe Harbor have announced plans for establishing the Central Virginia Emergency Shelter for Human Trafficking Victims.

It is believed to be the first dedicated facility of its kind in Central Virginia to provide shelter, counseling, safety planning and case management in a single location to adult women who are human trafficking victims.

The official opening will be in early January. The location will not be disclosed so as to ensure safety and privacy of the 15 residents seeking shelter.

Human trafficking is considered by many to be a form of modern-day slavery.

This crime occurs when a perpetrator uses force, fraud or coercion to control another person for the purpose of engaging in commercial sexual acts or soliciting labor or services against his or her will.

Most victims of human trafficking are afraid to come forward for fear of retaliation, shame or lack of understanding on what is happening to them.

The Commonwealth Attorney’s office currently has nearly 40 active sex trafficking cases and has convicted at least 14 sex traffickers since the beginning of 2016.

Announcement of the emergency shelter was made Dec. 7 at a media conference at Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond.

The new facility is deemed as “emergency” because its main goal is to provide immediate shelter so that victims will be safe from those who had held them hostage. Then the shelter staff will help with providing legal and emotional support. With this help those living in the shelter will be helped in seeking jobs, completing their education and finding safe affordable housing.

While the initial program in Central Virginia will initially provide a safe respite for up to 15 residents, the shelter plans to increase its housing capacity to 25 by 2018.

Currently many victims of human trafficking are sent either to other parts of Virginia or out of state.

Safe Harbor, Bon Secours’ partner in the emergency shelter, helps victims of sexual and domestic violence and offers support for adults and children through support groups in English and Spanish.

Cathy Easter, Safe Harbor’s executive director, welcomes the collaboration with Bon Secours Richmond Health System.

“The shelter’s ultimate goal is to help victims live independent and happy lives,” she said.

“Since our opening in 2000 as an emergency shelter for domestic violence victims, we have been growing increasingly concerned with the amount of human trafficking that goes on in Central Virginia.

“Through the shelter’s unique aspect of providing services in a single location, we will be able to reduce the impact of trauma on these victims.”

Safe Harbor received a grant of $500,000 to establish the shelter through the Department of Criminal Justice Services VOCA New Initiative Victim Assistance Grant Program.