The Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office on Friday took time to step back from prosecuting crimes to put the focus on those they are working to protect.
Under the theme “Serving Victims. Building Trust. Restoring Hope,” the program at the county courthouse capped off National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. It included a presentation from a survivor of sexual trafficking and special recognition for those law enforcement officers who go the extra measure to support victims.
Keynote speaker Barbara Amaya shared her story, which she also detailed in the award-winning book “Nobody’s Girl.”
A frequent runway from her home in the Fairfax County suburbs, as well as from any foster home or youth center to which she was assigned, 12-year-old Amaya was befriended by a woman she met in a Washington, DC, park. Soon thereafter she travelled with the woman—and her pimp—to New York City where she worked the streets as a prostitute for nearly a decade, getting hooked on heroin and building quite an arrest record in the process.
“By the time I left New York, I didn’t know my exact age,” she said. “It was a horrific life, if you can call it a life.”
When she was 21, she visited her sister in Philadelphia. She never went back to the New York City streets.
“There was a spark of life somewhere inside of me that did not want to die,” she said. But it took many years to come to terms with what happened to her.
“I really believed that everything I did was my fault, my choice,” she said. “I never thought of myself as a victim—ever.”
That was until she saw Det. Bill Woolf, the Fairfax County Police officer assigned to the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force, on TV and heard her experience described in the context of a crime victim for the first time. Soon she was working with Woolf and others to raise awareness of the plight of vulnerable teens with low self-esteem.
“I’m just trying to make a difference. I know that one person can make a difference,” said Amaya, who works as an advisor on human trafficking, policy, programs and aftercare services for Seraphim Global Technical.
Also speaking at the event was state Sen. Richard H. Black (R-13) who discussed his efforts to enact legislation requiring all sexual assault investigation kits to be fully processed in a laboratory and to provide better support for assault victims at the commonwealth’s colleges and universities.
Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Gigi Lawless, who won statewide
recognition earlier this month for her work on behalf of victims, presented awards to those who demonstrated a strong commitment to victims. Winners included Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office Detective Jeff Cichocki, an eight-year veteran of the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office who is assigned to the Sex Crimes Unit, and Detective Marco Pereira, who joined the Leesburg Police force four years ago.