WOODVILLE — Human trafficking is not just an inner-city problem, Detective Sgt. Amy Gloor of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office said Sunday, and the best thing that small towns can do for traffickers is to think the problems have not reached their communities.
“In the last two years, I’ve worked six cases that involved kids from Ottawa County,” Sergeant Gloor said as one of two panelists at a town hall forum on human trafficking in Elmore and Woodville. “I can also tell you that that doesn’t compare to the number of victims that we have in Toledo, but it will soon if we don’t step in and do something.”
Amy Gloor, left, and Jeff Wilbarger, speaking at a town hall forum on human trafficking at Woodmore Elementary School in Woodville on Sunday.
Human trafficking has become the second largest criminal industry in the United States, and is the fastest growing industry, she said, trailing only the drug trade in its scope. Those two criminal enterprises are becoming more entangled, she told the crowd gathered in Woodmore Elementary School.
Woodville Village Councilman Patrick Dunn attended the meeting with his two daughters, one 16 years old and the other 9.
“I wanted to make sure the kids know what’s going on,” he said. “It’s scary.”
Jeff Wilbarger, the director of the Daughter Project and the other panelist at the forum, told parents that the Internet and social media have given traffickers more access to their kids than ever before.
“We are foolish, in my opinion, if we give our children cell phones,” Mr. Wilbarger said. “If my kids were home now, they wouldn’t have a cell phone.”
Before she talks at any high school, Sergeant Gloor uses a fake Facebook account to start talking with students. In the two days before her last high school conversation, she said she got seven students to begin conversations with her.
“Your kids are letting them in, so it doesn’t matter what firewall you have. Your kids are letting them in by talking to them,” she said, encouraging close parental monitoring of their children’s social media conversations.
Both panelists emphasized the importance of calling police when coming across something suspicious.
“If you see something out there that you know isn’t right, you need to speak up,” Sergeant Gloor said.
Any suspicious behavior can be reported to the national human trafficking hotline, 1-888-373-7888.