Groups to ‘shine light’ on human trafficking Jan. 17 at mallWritten by Chase Will | | email@example.com
The third annual Shine a Light on Human Trafficking event will take place 1-5 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Franklin Park Mall.
During this free event, speakers from Northwest Ohio and Columbus will educate the public on what human trafficking is, how it occurs and how to prevent it.
“Two women who were actually trafficked are going to tell their stories,” said Mary Jay, co-chairman of the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition, which is presenting the event along with Toledo Area Ministries and Second Chance.
There will be a presentation from 1-3 p.m. at Cinemark Theater and information available from 3-5 p.m. at a kiosk in the food court. Franklin Park Mall is located at 5001 Monroe St.
Among presenters will be Theresa Flores, a trafficking survivor who is now an author, victim’s advocate and founder of Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution (SOAP); Jeff Willbarger, director of The Daughter Project; Sarah Ladd, attorney with Legal Aid of Western Ohio; and Michelle Moore, a trafficking survivor and support specialist/ chemical dependency counselor.
Toledo is the third largest origin city in the nation for human trafficking, and boys and girls as young as 8 are bought and sold daily, Jay said.
While the common misconception is these children are “snatched” off the street, Jay said traffickers typically finesse a child by using their personality vulnerabilities to gain their trust.
“They will target kids that maybe don’t have high self-esteem, kids who are hungry for attention,” Jay said. “Even when kids travel in groups, traffickers will go up and start talking to them and looking for the kid who seems to not think too highly of themselves.”
Traffickers will typically prey upon children by offering to buy them name brand clothing or taking false interest in their lives in order to gain their complete trust.
This trust is built over time as the child hangs out with this “cool new friend,” and the trafficker brainwashes the victim into trusting them completely, which leads to complete power over the victim’s decision making and willingness to service clients.
As a health department employee, Jay meets daily with both victims and traffickers, typically for medical services such as STD testing.
“We had a trafficker and his victim here last November who were trying to get a birth certificate,” Jay said.
“The trafficker will often want to have possession of the victim’s identification. Think about it; it’s pretty impossible to get service anywhere without a form of ID, and if trafficker withhold those things it enhances their level of control,” Jay said.
Jay also said these arrangements don’t always occur in the shadows or back alleys.
“Wherever you see a large influx of men who are unattached and not with their significant others, that’s where you’ll see a large demand for sex,” said Jay. “We’re talking car shows, the Super Bowl, all those big name sports events and conventions.”
Jay said it’s important to know human trafficking happens everywhere, not just in bigger cities like Toledo. Recent victims have been traced back to Fulton County and small towns across Ohio.
“The best thing parents can do is empower their kids and not have a child be so hungry for attention that they’ll go against their own gut instincts,” Jay said. “I would say for parents to empower their kids to not be so trusting of adults, to tell if something happens, such as if a stranger at the mall approaches and tells them they’re beautiful and they should be a model.”
Jay told a story about an incident which happened a few years back in Toledo. Two cousins, 14 and 15 years old, were kidnapped off the streets and taken across state lines after getting into an innocent-looking vehicle. One victim, who was later recovered, said every gut instinct told her not to get into the vehicle, but her trust in adults led her to disobey that instinct.
Even scarier, perhaps, is the large number of victims trafficked completely in the open on websites such as backpage.com, where traffickers use careful wording to sell victims the way an average Joe would sell items on eBay.
Jay said the FBI tracks websites known for promoting prostitution, and will set up reverse stings by luring offenders via fake postings.
“Toledo has one of the first human trafficking FBI divisions, if that gives you any idea how big it is here,” said Celeste Rollins, co-organizer for the event. “We’re known nationally as one of the hubs because of how our highways are set up. It’s easy to access, and you can jump on I-75 and be in Indiana or Michigan in minutes.”
Rollins got involved with the event after hearing a man speak on human trafficking during a church service. She had no idea at the time how prevalent it was, and with five children of her own, she was inspired to help raise awareness toward preventive actions.
Event attendees will leave with a wealth of knowledge as well as pamphlets detailing how to get involved in preventive organizations.
“One of the biggest things people can do is be aware and look for the signs,” Rollins said. “That’s what this event is all about.”