BELLBROOK — Community members can do their part in fighting human trafficking by educating themselves on the signs, paying attention to their surroundings, and contacting the hotline or local resources when they suspect an incident.
In 2017, 1,133 Ohio calls were received on the national human trafficking hotline and 365 human trafficking cases were reported in Ohio, Beth Bullock, advocacy director at R.E.A.C.H. for Tomorrow, reported at a human trafficking forum Aug. 27 in Bellbrook.
During “Hidden in Plain Sight,” hosted by Ohio Faith Net, partner to the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Commission, Bullock and others shared information with the group, including the following:
“There’s a really big misunderstanding of what human trafficking really is,” Bullock began.
Human trafficking is the illegal movement of a person by force, fraud or coercion for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.
“It’s taking that individual and using him or her for your own personal gain … forcing them to do things that are against their will,” she continued.
Some of the more severe forms of human trafficking are sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Sex trafficking is the “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.”
“We’re seeing this a lot with rise to the opioid epidemic. It’s taking advantage of someone in their most vulnerable state. I work with a lot of those in addiction and this happens to them as well,” Bullock said. “Traffickers are taking advantage .. and using them in situations to get more drugs for themselves, holding drugs over their heads … “
Labor trafficking is similar but in work situations. It involves the “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services … for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.”
Who are victims?
Anybody — men, women, children, with the majority being women. All ages. Some U.S. citizens, some with Visas, some brought to the U.S. with the promise of a job. The very vulnerable, like runaway youth and foster children who have experienced some kind of trauma, were pulled away from their parents. Individuals who are in active addiction, have physical or mental disabilities, or are experiencing homelessness.
“A lot of victims who are trafficked don’t even know they are being trafficked,” Bullock said.
Who are traffickers?
Anyone. Gangs, organized crime, business owners, employers of domestic servants, family members, intimate partners.
What should I look for?
Are they allowed to come and go? Is there always someone with them, someone speaking for them? Do they have an I.D.? Do they talk about owing somebody a lot of money? Is their appearance disheveled? Are they staying in a hotel room with a lot of activity, people going in and out? Is their mental health poor — are they fearful, anxious, not making eye contact? Is their physical health poor — do they seem malnourished, dehydrated, haven’t showered?
What can I do?
Pay attention to a suspected victim and see how they interact with people. Be aware of your surroundings. If you see something, say something. Don’t second-guess a gut feeling. Pay attention to neighborhood kids — build a level of trust, ask if someone is OK. Advocate for them. Work on prevention — teach your children it’s OK to say no where their bodies are concerned and it’s OK to set boundaries.
National Human Trafficking Hotline: call 1-888-373-7888, text HELP or INFO to 233733 or visit humantraffickinghotline.org.
“A lot of victims, they aren’t reaching out to law enforcement,” Bullock said. “They have warrants … they have prior criminal history. They don’t trust law enforcement. They’re scared. They know if they’re seen talking to a cop, they’re in trouble. Their brains are just on survival mode 24-7. And that’s all they’re thinking of — living for the next day.”
Abolition Ohio (Dayton): 937-229-4326
A Wired Family: awiredfamily.org
Her Story (Xenia): 937-736-0720
Safe Harbor House (Springfield): 937-717-5908