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Northwest Ohio new battlefield for human trafficking

The following, written by Lisa Nicely was published October 27, 2013 in the Cresecent News.

Northwest Ohio new battlefield for human trafficking
Forum helps raise awareness, engage community

Rural northwest Ohio is becoming the fastest growing area for human trafficking in the state.

That was one of the messages individuals heard during a human trafficking forum held Saturday at Defiance College.

"So much emphasis (to combat trafficking) was put on large areas like Toledo that traffickers are moving to northwest Ohio where they hope we don't know the signs so well," said Laurel Neufield-Weaver of the Northwest Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition.

The human trafficking forum was sponsored by the Northwest Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition, Legal Aid of Western Ohio Human Trafficking Protection Project, Family Justice of Northwest Ohio, Defiance College and Children's Lantern.

"We are here to talk about human trafficking here in Defiance, our county and the surrounding areas," said Sarah Warpinski, regional coordinator of the Legal Aid of Western Ohio (LAWO) Human Trafficking Protection Project. "We know from other cities and states that the best way to stop and prevent trafficking is to have an engaged community.


"Individuals were presented with several statistics about trafficking such as each year 100,000-300,000 U.S. children are at high risk for commercial sex exploitation. The average entry age into prostitution is 12-14.

"We would need to fill the (Ohio State football stadium) three times to get the number of children at risk for human trafficking in the U.S.," Neufield-Weaver said.Turning just to Ohio, there are on average 6,316 Ohioans at risk for commercial sex exploitation, Neufield-Weaver said.

"There are 1,861 (children) believed to be trafficked in Ohio as we sit here," she added.

Risk factors for sexual exploitation include child abuse, survivors of sexual violence, poverty/neglect and runaways.

"About 90 percent of runaways intersect sex trafficking within 48 hours of leaving home," Neufield-Weaver said. She added that traffickers use vulnerability of victims to manipulate and control them, making them more susceptible to trafficking.

There are several signs to identify trafficking victims. Those include an individual demonstrating sudden changes in attire, behavior or material possession; who does not control his or her own schedule, money, identification or travel documents; is transported to and from work or lives and works in the same place; has bruises, exhibits depression, fear or is overly submissive; does not make eye contact; has a boyfriend who is noticeably older (10 or more years) or hangs out with an older female; and is always accompanied by a controlling person and does not speak on his or her own behalf. There are also barriers to identifying victims as they have a fear for themselves or their families and may be dependent on the trafficker.

Defiance College professor Tim Wedge discussed labor trafficking, but warned that everyone combatting trafficking is still learning.

"This has just been a hidden population for so long," he said.

Wedge pointed out that labor trafficking is a huge issue. He said it's nearly impossible not to purchase any item not made with slave labor.

"California has a good bill where larger companies must keep their supply chain free of slave labor," he said, adding that individuals must post a document stating what they are doing to keep slave labor out of the supply chain. "I advocate that the entire U.S. does this."

He stated that the website grades how companies do with keeping slave labor out of a supply chain. He did warn that most companies that are good at having no slave labor, have a higher priced product.

"Shop with your conscience," he said. "Spend a few pennies more to stop slave labor."

He stressed that only through collaborations with individuals or others will trafficking of any kind be stopped. Alyssa Tracy of Children's Lantern, one organization helping victims of trafficking, also spoke.

"We want to pound our fist on the tables and say 'not in our city, not in our town, now in our county, not in our area or anywhere in our country,' " she said of trafficking. Children's Lantern has three goals, one of which is to free individuals who have been trafficked.

"We want to help restore these girls," she said, adding that items are collected to help get individuals on their feet and meet their needs.

"We want to help these children and provide for their needs," she said, adding that's not done through government funding. "This is a community taking care of its own."

Warpinski talked about the new LAWO Human Trafficking Protection Project in Defiance. The goal is to raise awareness of trafficking as well as provide services to survivors in terms of legal needs as well as immediate needs.

She stressed that community members of all kinds are needed to stop trafficking.

"You really need everyone on board --children, adults, men, women," she said. "They all interact with people in different ways and may know something others do not."

Anyone who suspects trafficking is happening is encouraged to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888. The toll-free line is confidential and interpreters are available.

"We, as a society, need to say 'it's not right to sell people,' " Nuefield-Weaver said.