Opinion/Editorial: AG tackling two diverse problems

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Source - The Daily Progress

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is continuing in the footsteps of his predecessor by targeting human trafficking as one of his key law enforcement initiatives.

He also just launched “the nation’s first Attorney General Animal Law Unit” (The Daily Progress, Jan. 24).

We don’t mention those two things together to provoke any particular kind of reaction — other than the observation that the attorney general is versatile in his choice of issues.

Animal law and animal welfare are important. People are doubly so. Mr. Herring is concerned about both.

Before Mr. Herring’s tenure in the office, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli pushed back against human trafficking, seeking to educate Virginians about this horrific crime and making stepped-up law enforcement efforts a hallmark of his administration.

“Much like victims of domestic violence, human trafficking victims are trapped by fear, isolation and brutality at the hands of their traffickers and those who purchase them for sex,” he wrote one year ago in an op-ed for The Washington Times.

One million children worldwide are estimated to be sexually exploited annually, Mr. Cuccinelli said. Some 300,000 are trafficked in the U.S. alone, and the average age of girls forced into prostitution is 12 to 14. Extreme brutality is used to keep them compliant and frightened of seeking help.

Last month, Mr. Herring launched a campaign to further educate Virginians about the horrors of this crime.

And if you think our beautiful state is protected from such atrocities, think again. Virginia ranked fifth in the nation last year in number of calls referred to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, said Mr. Herring. That’s because of the state’s key East Coast location, with access to major sea ports, airports and busy interstates.

Unlike child prostitution, however, in Virginia most victims are women ages 20-39 from the United States or Latin America, according to a survey from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. They are forced into prostitution, household work or labor-intensive jobs with little or no pay.

This month, the attorney general turned his attention to animal welfare, announcing his new Animal Law Unit.

The initiative has merit on its face for protecting animals. Mr. Herring notes that many local law enforcement officers and prosecutors already seek help from the attorney general’s office in investigating and prosecuting crimes against animals. Dog fighting is of special concern.

But these crimes also have another component: They often are associated with a cluster of other offenses, such as gambling, drug use, illegal possession of alcohol and illegal possession of firearms.

Unravel one crime, and you can solve others. Removing these clusters of crimes from society, and putting the criminals behind bars, benefits all Virginians.

These are two very different initiatives.

But each has its deserved place.

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