Ohio sees more human trafficking crimes in 2014 than previous years

Illustration from the Detroit Free Press 2012.

Illustration from the Detroit Free Press 2012.

The State of Ohio is dealing with human trafficking now more than ever according to a report from the Attorney General’s office.

“It’s one of those things where I think we’re just becoming more aware of the problem and have gotten better at catching it,” Ohio Attorney General’s Office Director of Criminal Justice Initiatives Amy O’Grady said. “It’s been an ongoing problem in our state but a lot of cases went unnoticed and continue to go unnoticed.”

According to the report, the most common age groups for trafficking victims are ages 18 to 20 and 21 to 29, with 71 and 50 reported Ohio cases in 2014, respectively.

“A lot of these cases were actually investigated as just women that were just out on the street that were charged with prostitution,” O’Grady said. “Our officers are gaining better training to handle trafficking victims but we’ve just recently in the grand scheme of things really started to fight this.”

O’Grady said that in addition to sex trafficking, which is the most commonly thought of when human trafficking is referenced, there is labor trafficking, of which eight of the state’s 181 trafficking cases were labor-related.

“People often forget about labor trafficking probably because it’s not as scandalous,” O’Grady said. “But it still happens, even here.”

 Fighting back


Various organizations and coalitions exist in the state of Ohio in order to raise awareness about human trafficking.

The Collaborative to End Human Trafficking works in most of northern Ohio, with the exceptions of Stark and Lorain Counties, both of which have their own county committees.

“We’re not necessarily here to help victims of trafficking, but we’re definitely here to educate,” Anne Victory, Collaborative to End Human Trafficking education coordinator, said.

Victory said the collaborative often books speakers at a variety of locations in order to help raise this awareness, especially Theresa Flores.

“She has just an amazing story,” Victory said. “She was a teenager when she was trafficked and nobody knew about it.”

Flores has written a best-selling book about her experience, “The Slave Across the Street.” She did not return request for an interview.

“We really try to educate as many people as we can,” Victory said. “It’s why we offer so many programs and book so many speakers.”

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Recognizing the signs


The Ohio Attorney General’s Office suggests using the acronym “RESCUE CHILD” to determine whether or not someone is a victim of human trafficking.

It stands for “Runaway, Education, Sexual assault, Court appearances, Using drugs or alcohol, Emotional abuse, Child abuse or neglect, Homelessness, Influential others, Loving someone much older, Difficulty making friends.”

“It helps police to determine if something is or isn’t right,” O’Grady said. “That’s definitely something we’re trying to drive home with police and event citizens – look for these signs and even just something as simple as out of the ordinary.”

Victory said one of the most important groups needing to be educated is health care professionals.

“Heaven forbid someone come into the hospital that’s a victim of trafficking, doctors and nurses need to be able to tell what to look for on their bodies that gives that away,” Victory said. “The training and speeches we offer and geared towards that kind of thing, especially when it comes to young children who don’t necessarily know to speak up when they’re in the presence of a responsible adult.”

O’Grady also stressed the importance helping children in an unsafe situation.

“If you suspect someone is being trafficked call 911 immediately,” she said. “The sooner we can get (children) and even adults out of these situations, the better.”

Contact Katie Nix at [email protected] and Rachel Smeaton at [email protected].