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Human Trafficking Around the World and in Ohio

On Tuesday evening, July 5th, we went to the monthly "Happy Dog Takes on the World" at that local establishment IMG_2716 on West 58th Street and Detroit Avenue. That evening's topic for discussion was "Human Trafficking Around the World and in Ohio" and the panel consisted of Ms. Amanda Clark, Ph.D. Candidate in the Dept. of Political Science at Kent State University; Sister Anne Victory, HM, MSN, Steering Committee from the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking who we had heard speak before at a human trafficking awareness event in Painesville last September; and our friend, Ms. Renee Jones, Founder of the Renee Jones Empowerment Center. As is often the case, their exchange was moderated by Mr. Tony Ganzer, WCPN host/producer.

Among the important points made at this forum were the following:

***Ms. Clark reviewed the United Nations definition of human trafficking as "the recruitment, transportation transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual exploitation." In short, it was about slavery and defrauding. In the course of their dialogue, the panelists agreed that society has come a long way in recent years in terms of addressing this crisis but it still has a long way to go especially in the areas of public awareness and services to victims.

***All agree that the statistics involving human trafficking were very shaky because it is such an underground crime but in terms of calls to hot lines, Ohio is ranked number four in the nation. In the case of Toledo, let it be said that a task force there has been working this issue for a long time so it makes sense that so many arrests have taken place which have generated so much publicity. Other factors such as Ohio's geographic location and the number of major freeways that run through it, indicate that we just might a major player in the human trafficking network.

***It was said that when talking about human trafficking, we must be careful not to focus only on sex crimes but also the number of people involved with slave labor. Ms. Clark recalled a recent incident where several people from Guatemala were found working as slaves on an egg farm in Ohio after it had been raided. Sister Anne pointed out that authorities will be mindful of this during the RNC because there will be a great number of parties and extra labor will be needed to set up for them and clean up.IMG_2717

***Ms. Jones talked about the work that the Renee Jones Empowerment Center had done with human trafficking victims. It had been her experience that the road to recovery is indeed quite long; Ms. Jones compared the work that she and the center did to "alcoholics anonymous". She believed that a victim needs a "lifetime of support."  Sister Anne said that a victim needs to be housed in a place that offers "24 hour services" and believed that this was the most important thing. Ms. Jones was also full of praise for the work that the Office of the Ohio Attorney General has done in terms of prosecuting offenders and raising public awareness about this issue as well as the work that the CWRU School of Law has done via providing legal services to human trafficking victims.

***In terms of relatively recent legislative advances aimed at combating human trafficking, the entire panel upheld the laws authored by Ohio State Senator Teresa Fedor which were passed in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Ms. Clark said that because the laws were so new, though, people were often confused as to how to apply them. She called for more training particularly among medical professionals and hairdressers about how to recognize a case of abuse. Regarding hairdressers, they are in a unique position to spot scars and bruises. A giveaway might be a situation where a young girl taken to a beauty appointment by an older man who does all of the talking.

***In terms of public awareness, Sister Anne emphasized that most people don't want to think that such a thing as human trafficking could be going on in their neighborhood but chances are that it is. She readily admitted that it is taking place in her own. Ms. Jones seconded this statement when she said that since 2008 she has assisted victims from all areas of Cleveland and all of its suburbs. Ms. Clark said that she is an advocate of "supply chain transparency"; for instance, that lovely t-shirt that only cost $5.00 could very well be a product of exploited labor. She said that if the price seems too good to be true then it probably is.

During the program, we shared a table with two very concerned people who were Ms. Pat Kitzel (now retired) and Ms. Grace Ciptak, who works at the Cleveland Clinic.

At the beginning of the Q and A, we asked the panel about the impact of the "T" nonimmigrant visa which allows victims of human trafficking to remain in the United States to assist federal authorities in the investigation and prosecution of human traffickers. Reservations were expressed because many victims are justifiably frightened over possible consequences for themselves and/or their families if they came forward to assist law enforcement personnel. Later, we shared some notes that read that "if under the age of 18 at the time of victimization, or if you are unable to cooperate with a law enforcement request due to physical or psychological trauma, you may qualify for the T nonimmigrant visa without having to assist in investigation or prosecution."

Afterwards, we talked with Ms. Stephanie Jansky, Director of Programming for the City Club of Cleveland, who expanded on an item that was brought up in the Q and A. Through social media, Ms. Jansky had read that people were encouraged to take photos of the hotel/motel rooms that they occupied while on vacation and then send them to a site connected with law enforcement because they might be of use to investigators who are studying the backgrounds of photos of illicit acts (which often do occur in hotel/motel rooms) related to human trafficking. These photos may be of service in terms of pinpointing where these acts might actually have taken place.

For us, this is the type of innovative approach needed in order to ultimately prevail in our efforts to end this abhorrent practice.

By:

Michael Patterson 

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

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