March 12, 2024

Spotlight on Fairfax County: A profile on human trafficking

Jess Bohall

If you follow the trends on human trafficking, you know that solid facts on the issue can be difficult to uncover and verify. Traffickers are constantly evolving their tradecraft as technology changes and methods become more sophisticated. In addition, conditions and characteristics that mark high prevalence areas vary based on geography. For example, methods of trafficking and who is preyed upon looks very different in Ghana than in the United States. Because awareness is a critical first tool to combating trafficking, in this post we are shedding light on some of the characteristics of human trafficking in our own communities in Fairfax County.

Why Fairfax County?

Several factors contribute to the prevalence of human trafficking in Fairfax County. Proximity to major transportation hubs, including Dulles and Reagan airports (both international), major interstate highways, and railways, facilitates the easy movement of traffickers and their victims. In fact, some illicit massage businesses (or IMBs) located in Herndon and Sterling will even advertise that they are a short Uber drive from Dulles.  

Beyond the ease of transit, it is easy for traffickers and their victims to “disappear” into the movement of a highly populated area. Although there is a high potential of being close to trafficking in action, albeit unwittingly, the insular nature of a massive population that is constantly on the move makes it easy to hide in plain sight. 

The DMV area is home to over 5.5 million people and contains vast differences in wealth distribution. Despite its overall prosperity, Fairfax County grapples with sharp economic disparities, rendering vulnerable populations more susceptible to exploitation. Where there is economic need, people can be coerced more easily into a trafficking trap.

Types of trafficking

While all types of human trafficking may exist in Fairfax County, two types that Reset180 has commonly seen are gang sex trafficking and illicit massage businesses or IMBs. Gang sex trafficking happens all over the county in Herndon, Sterling, Loudoun, Ashburn, Fairfax, Chantilly, Manassas, Tysons, Vienna, Woodbridge, and Annandale and so on. Trafficked people who are controlled by gangs are often low-income, minorities, runaways, teenagers, and transient.

It is difficult to know exactly how many IMBs exist in Fairfax County. The nature of illegal businesses harboring and involved in trafficking involves changing storefront names and locations in and out of the area frequently to avoid detection. It can also be difficult to recognize an IMB from a legitimate massage/spa business, but there are signs to be aware of. Before visiting a massage or spa locale, be sure to visit the website and look up reviews. If the website includes models in bikinis and otherwise looks similar to an adult magazine, this is a red flag that it could be an IMB. If reviews are predominantly written by men, this can be another sign of an IMB. If the workers aggressively ask for tips, it could be an indication that it is the only payment they are actually receiving. If workers live in the location of the business, this is another indication of trafficking.

Reset180 Response and Initiatives

Reset180 offers a variety of resources and initiatives to help prevent trafficking. We offer awareness presentations upon request at schools, businesses, churches, sororities, rotary clubs, political committees, associations, and any other groups that come to mind. Please consider requesting this for your group! We also offer awareness van tours and conduct outreach at known IMBs to ensure would-be customers know about the activity occurring there. 

We also contribute to the care, support, and restoration of people caught up in trafficking schemes. This is important work that you can be involved with! 


While trafficking has commonalities the world over, it also takes on some of its own characteristics depending on location. Nurturing a keen awareness of trafficking in your area helps you learn how to spot suspicious activity related to trafficking. The insular nature of many highly populated and diverse areas can also cause one to be unsure whether what they are seeing are red flags. Since we know trafficking can happen in plain sight, err on the side of caution. Reporting is the best policy even if you are not sure that what you are seeing is trafficking. Get involved and support the prevention and disruption of local human trafficking!

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