VERMILION — Slavery still exists in America, even if it goes by a different name.
Sex trafficking is a booming business and an insidious one, too, say experts and law enforcement officials. Students at Vermilion High School will learn the danger signs to avoid becoming a victim and to spot them among their peers during a special presentation today.
The program will be delivered by speaker Tracy McGinley, lecturer and program adviser in the criminal justice department at Bowling Green University Firelands campus.
McGinley will offer two sessions, tailored by age, said Erin Smith, counselor at Vermilion High.
“It’s more of an information session for students to look out for themselves and their peers, and stay safe,” Smith said. The school hasn’t specifically addressed this topic before but has had speakers from other community awareness groups, such as the domestic violence shelter Genesis House, to teach about healthy relationships.
“This is important for all teens to hear about because the traffickers are very manipulative and can try to entice anyone,” McGinley said, adding that traffickers model their approaches based on their targets: playing on insecure young girls, or young college students seeking employment and use modeling as an entryway. Many use social media to contact pre-teens or “tweens” to gain their trust.
Sex trafficking has been on the rise for years but has been a hot topic in the news this week after single mom Sierra Robinson, 24, was shot and killed in Milwaukee on March 11. Her 2-year-old child, Noelani, was taken by the man police accuse of killing her and said he was the baby’s father and Robinson’s former pimp. When she tried to take the child, she was murdered. The baby’s body was found Saturday along a road in Minnesota.
Ohio is often said to be near the top — No. 4 — trafficked spots in the nation, but McGinley said statistics are hard to prove. What that actually means is Ohio ranks fourth in the number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which could mean that Ohio does a better job of publicizing the number.
“Regardless of where we rank in the United States, we do know that there is a problem with human trafficking and it is not just sex trafficking, it is also labor trafficking,” McGinley said.
Many local or county agencies do not track numbers, but according to a governor’s report on human trafficking, the Ohio Network of Child Advocacy Centers has reported 354 victims since July 2013. It reported 92 victims in 2017 — and those numbers only counted January through June and November and December.
The Ohio Attorney General’s office identified 208 potential and confirmed victims in 2017, culled from local law enforcement agencies around the state.
Numbers are reported through different agencies and some victims may overlap agencies.
“From what I understand, students (and) teens can have that almost on the side of their real life,” Smith said. “It’s a manipulation and control piece. They might still be living at home, coming to school, and it could be happening after hours.”
While both girls and boys can be victimized, the numbers are overwhelmingly female, according to the state report, which also tracks foreign nationals and labor trafficking.
“Unfortunately, what we also know is that there are kids being trafficked by their own parents and/or other family members. Some kids are trafficked to support a family member’s drug habit or just as a means to make more money for the family.”
The National Human Trafficking Hotline is (888) 373-7888.
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