September 18, 2015

The Collaborative Initiative to End Human Trafficking, which was formed in 2007, has spearheaded much of the work against human trafficking in Ohio. Its mission is to educate and advocate for the prevention and abolition of human trafficking and to connect services on behalf of trafficked persons, according to the group’s website.

The Collaborative aims to educate people in law enforcement, social services, the medical field and more so that they know how to properly identify and deal with human trafficking.

“What we want to do is educate all those systems to understand the issue so that they can best respond from whatever their expertise is,” said Walsh. “We’ll go wherever people are willing to listen.”

However, for those who are identified as trafficked, the resources available are minimal.

According to Lovell, victims of trafficking are some of the most marginalized people in the country and need as much help as possible.

“Unfortunately, that’s very hard because it is very expensive to provide that level of support for people,” she added.

Lovell is currently working on a grant that could house up to nine women who self-identify as trafficked in the Hitchcock Center for Women, where they would be provided with drug treatment and other services for nine months in order to help lower the high rates of recidivism among trafficked women.

“That’s what these people really need, the full thing,” she said. “What Cleveland has done, which is a good first step, is set up immediate housing to get the victim out of a bad situation, but it’s similar to domestic violence situations… To really address the situation you have to be able to provide lots of resources, patience and time to work through what they need.”

The FBI provides some services to victims through their victim services coordinator. The coordinator refers victims to community support, based on their needs.

Victims deal with everything from medical issues to drug and alcohol abuse problems to trauma. Fear and trust are also huge issues. Many human trafficking victims began in the trade because of a boyfriend or family member, who they may still believe they trust. By some estimates, about one-third of trafficked children are trafficked by an immediate family member, which makes removing them from the situation even more difficult.

“People may not identify as being trafficked,” said Lovell. “They may not want to testify, even if they hate the trafficker, because they don’t see that person as their captor, but as their boyfriend or partner. They have a personal relationship with them, which makes getting them to identify the problem and testify difficult.”

“They may not recognize that they are a victim,” said Walsh.

Bellefaire, a child welfare agency, became involved in the issue through their work with homeless children.

According to Karen McHenry, Homeless Youth programs director, a youth will be solicited for sex within 48 hours of being on the street. The organization runs a 24/7 hotline for homeless and missing youth, through which they collaborate with community partners and law enforcement to help get victims the care that they need.

“These kids are really invisible to most people,” she added. “Unless you are asking the right questions, connecting with these kids, presenting yourself as a safe person, you won’t know that these kids need help.”

The CRCC also provides a 24/7 hotline, specific to trafficking victims, through Project STAR, or Sex Trafficking Advocacy and Recovery. Launched in April of 2013, the hotline receives between 100 and 150 calls per year.

“The victims come forward with a wide range of needs,” said Miller. “No two calls are exactly the same.”

Once they receive a call, the CRCC connects the victims with their services, which include individual and group counseling as well as criminal justice advocacy, as well as other agencies who can help with food, shelter and any other needs the victim may have.

Miller says that, of the adult women who come into the CRCC for help, about one-third have a history of trafficking.

“When someone walks through our door, we don’t ask ‘are you a victim of human trafficking’ because most people have no idea what that means and would say no,” said Miller.

Instead, the agency prompts them with questions about whether anyone has ever forced them to have sex for money.

“We reframed the questions to match people’s experiences,” said Miller.

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