Human trafficking in Alexandria, and other cities in Northern Virginia, is more prevalent than people think.
Robert E. Lee High School sits in a bucolic spot in Springfield, Va., a quiet suburb where neighbors know each other by name and children walk to school. But court documents paint a different picture of this neighborhood, where three suspects involved in a gang-led prostitution ring attended high school.
Unloading his equipment in the parking lot of the high school, Fairfax City resident Greg Golden says it's not the kind of thing people associate with Springfield.
"You think of this as something going in D.C. or somewhere like that," says Golden. "Richmond. Certainly not here."
But it did happen here, and in many spots across Virginia, where a violent street gang known as the Underground Gangster Crips engaged in a prostitution ring. Over the past year, federal prosecutors in Northern Virginia filed charges in 16 different cases involving human trafficking. Court records show the prostitutes went door-to-door at an apartment complex in Arlington and took clients to a motel in Old Town Alexandria.
At Lee High School, principal Abe Jeffers says the Underground Gangster Crips is one of a handful of gangs school leaders know about.
"Crips, Bloods, MS-13, 18th Street," he says. "I mean, there's all sorts of gangs, and that was one of the gangs that has certainly had a presence here for years."
State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) has engaged in a campaign to stem the tide of human trafficking in Northern Virginia, which he says is far more widespread than people would imagine.
"Girls who are just still in high school can be trafficked while they are in high school without even being taken from their communities," he says. "And this can happen in any community."
Ebbin has introduced a number of bills targeting the practice in recent years.
"Trafficking is largely a hidden crime that people don't believe is happening in their communities because people aren't arrested, and often it's limited to one ethnic group," he says.
Looking ahead, Ebbin says more training is needed so people can recognize human trafficking.