Rileyanne Duncan | Photo by Kayli Thompson | The Wright State Guardian
In 2019, there were 450 reported cases of human trafficking in Ohio, according to the national human trafficking hotline. A modern-day form of slavery, human trafficking continues to take victims while being misunderstood and misrepresented.
Understanding human trafficking
Human trafficking, which includes sex trafficking and forced labor, is a violation of human rights that involves force, fraud or coercion according to Janet Long, Director of Community Relations for the Mid-East Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition.
“By force means physical abuse, physical bondage, where they tell the victim to say or do what you’re supposed to… Fraud is any false promises that they might make to the victim. For example, ‘I have a large home in California and I’ll take good care of you if you come with me.’ That’s fraud because they’re promising you something to get you to do what they want you to do… Coercion is a threat of violence or debt bondage. A lot of that debt bondage comes from labor trafficking,” Long said.
Human trafficking can happen anywhere to anyone.
“It’s not just happening in your cities, in your Cleveland’s, Toledo’s, in your Cincinnati’s and Columbus’s, it’s all over,” said Emily Billman, Anti-Human Trafficking Coordinator for the Ohio Human Trafficking Initiative
Most of the time, the trafficker is someone who has gained the trust of the victim.
“Kidnapping is less than 10% of human trafficking. The other 90% is a family acquaintance, a family member, or an older boyfriend or girlfriend,” Long said.
Movies like the 2008 film “Taken” directed by Pierre Morel where a young woman is kidnapped by sex traffickers on her vacation in Paris, are what often come to mind when people think of trafficking, but for Katie, the nightmare happened in her own home. Katie was trafficked by someone she was dating at 17 years old.
“He was gorgeous and he had charm. I just wanted someone in my life to show me attention for a change, instead of being ignored,” said Katie in a personal testimony in the FBI documentary “Victim of Underage Human Trafficking Speaks Out.”
Once Katie realized that she needed to leave, it was too late.
“I invested so much time and so much money into Juan that everything was tied into him. I didn’t have a house, I didn’t have a bank account, I didn’t have my own car. I didn’t have anything. So if I left Juan I left everything,” Katie said.
What are your vulnerabilities?
Like with Katie, traffickers will prey on the needs and vulnerabilities of their victims.
“A lot of times we have traffickers who prey on addictions, whether they’re pre-existing addictions or they cause the addictions to develop,” said Jennifer Rausch, Legal director for the Ohio Human Trafficking Initiative.
Traffickers take note of their victim’s weaknesses and use those to keep control over them.
“It could be that you had prior abuse. Or your vulnerability is that you don’t have love and support at home or you had physical violence in your home…so you had all this prior trauma and then you had new trauma on top of it and it gets really complicated,” said Rausch.
For 23-year-old Tanya from Ukraine, her trafficker preyed on her financial instability.
To save money for her younger brother’s surgery, Tanya got a job at a cafe where a woman who was aware of her financial situation offered her a job as a nanny abroad. Unable to pass up the opportunity, Tanya traveled abroad and was thrown into the world of sex trafficking.
“I couldn’t believe places like that actually exist. I thought I’d find at least one kind person,” said Tanya in a documentary by Real Stories “The Billion Dollar Industry of Sex Trafficking” which tells the story of several victims.
Protecting yourself online
“I think the thing to understand and be aware of is what are your vulnerabilities? What are you in need of?” said Jomel Aird, Director of Victim Services for the Ohio Human Trafficking Initiative.
In the age of social media, the information and content one shares can be used against the individual and put them in a place to become a target for a trafficker.
“I think we often forget that there are things like screenshotting and screen recording and that it can spread so quickly and that once it sends you have no control where it goes and that’s another manipulation tactic that someone can use over you. [The traffickers] play upon that shame and that manipulation,” said Billman.
Use caution with social media by being selective about what you post and who you allow to follow you.
“If you don’t know the person that’s friending you, or sending you messages, or calling you, don’t engage. Don’t answer. Don’t give them any additional information because you don’t know what they’re using it for,” said Rausch.
By knowing the truth about human trafficking and understanding why others fall victim to it, we can end the stigma and begin the fight against this modern-day slavery.