With the 2015 Super Bowl human trafficking bust still fresh in our minds, we should use this impetus to bring focus to the same type of slavery that is occurring in our backyards. An estimated 1,078 youth are trafficked in Toledo annually, with the region being identified as a national hub for recruitment of minors into sex trade, according to a Human Trafficking Task Force report.
So what is being done? On the forefront, Toledo organizations such as the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition, The Daughter Project, and Stop Trafficking of Persons are already vigorously helping victims of human trafficking. The Safe Harbor Law, House Bill 262, sponsored by state Rep. Teresa Fedor, (D., Toledo), was passed in 2012 to increase the penalties of traffickers and improve the care for victims.
Furthermore, Ms. Fedor endorsed the End Demand Act that was signed into law last year. This act builds upon the Safe Harbor Law to further support and protect victims who were trafficked.
The process of assisting victims to re-enter society is a challenging one and every effort made to help these individuals is well applauded. Ms. Fedor and other anti-human trafficking coalition members, such as Celia Williamson of the University of Toledo, are constantly fighting for safer, predator-free environments for our children.
However, change is also needed on the community level, and we need to ensure that our children are aware of this horrendous form of modern slavery in Toledo and the United States.
Statistics show that the average age of recruitment of victims from Toledo is 14 to 15 years old. That being said, the definite target for anti-sex trafficking education should be the youth. With more children being lured into these sex trafficking rings, education regarding this form of child abuse needs to be attained in schools. By educating and empowering our children on how they can avoid being influenced or forced into sex trafficking, we can reduce the chances of them falling victims to the industry.
Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world and close to $35 billion a year is made on the exploiting of the innocent. The community needs to ensure that there is a constant spotlight on the topic of human trafficking of minors.
Currently, there are many efforts geared at educating the community of Toledo on human trafficking. In September, the 13th Annual International Human Trafficking & Social Justice Conference (held at the University of Toledo) will offer workshops geared at educating high school students on human trafficking. Additionally, the Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution program, which was developed by advocate and survivor Theresa Flores, was introduced to the northwest Ohio area earlier this year.
Through educational outreach at events and via door-to-door visits, high-risk trafficking motels and hotels in the area are educated about the signs of human trafficking. SOAP is a terrific example of equipping the community to take action against this public health issue.
For further information on how to get involved, check out websites such as lchtc.org, stoptraffickingofpersons.org, and thedaughterproject.org. These websites offer important information about human trafficking in our area, as well as, the necessary contact info if you do suspect someone is being trafficked.
Citizens of Toledo, let’s campaign for the unseen.
Rachel Mahas is a doctoral student in health education at the University of Toledo.
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