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She’s recently focused on the District’s efforts to combat violent robberies and homicides, but this morning Mayor Muriel Bowser shifted gears to discuss a new commitment to beat human trafficking in the nation’s capital.

The mayor signed an executive memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security  as part of a national “Blue Campaign” that seeks to eliminate criminal enterprises referred to as “modern-day slavery.” The District has received more than 480 reported cases of human trafficking since 2007, Bowser said, citing a sting against prostitution-related offenses by the Metropolitan Police Department last year that resulted in over 170 arrests. The commitment coincides with the National Human Trafficking Awareness Day and formalizes resource-sharing among local District agencies and the U.S. government.

“Human trafficking preys on vulnerable people, some searching for love or a home, and all [who are] easy targets,” said Maria Odom, chair of DHS’ Blue Campaign. Communities must take a “victim-centered approach” to fight it, Odom adds.

Odom highlighted the fact that victims of human trafficking “rarely” report their situations because they may fear retaliation by traffickers or don’t know where to turn. The lack of data is partially why it’s hard to characterize the scope of human trafficking in a given jurisdiction, she added; trafficking behavior often manifests itself differently. Odom said DHS will work with the Metropolitan Police Department, the D.C. Office of Human Rights, and other partners to provide training that will help identify various criminal activities. (One of those partners will be the Department of Motor Vehicles.)

“We’re really in phase 1 of expanding our efforts,” said OHR Director Mónica Palacio of anti-trafficking work. She added that OHR’s caseload has nearly doubled in recent years to more than 1,000 cases, owing to new anti-discrimination statutes designed to protect former felons and women in or entering the workforce, among others.

Photo by Andrew Giambrone