MOUNT VERNON — There are anti-human trafficking coalitions all across Ohio representing all 88 counties. Their members want citizens to “look beneath the surface,” because human trafficking is a crime “that hides in plain sight.”
“Look beneath the surface,” is Ohio’s public information campaign to help educate the public about human trafficking, said Amanda Friesel, who coordinates the Central Ohio Rescue & Restore Coalition (CORRC). The coalition represents 15 counties, including Knox, responding to the crime with education, social service, victim advocacy, and prosecution. Friesel’s appearance came through a Knox Knows More presentation at the request of New Directions Shelter of Knox County.
The fact that human trafficking is divided into sex trafficking and labor trafficking — with detectable telltale signs including people forced to work long hours with no direct monetary gain coming to them as a result of false promises — make it a crime that can be uncovered. When you see something out of the ordinary, like people who appear desperate for basic needs and may be forced to trade sex in exchange for food, housing, or transportation, the best approach with a potential victim is not to force an answer if they don’t want to give one. But it is acceptable to ask him or her “Are you OK?” or “How are you feeling?” Friesel said.
“If you see something — say something,” she emphasized.
Friesel informed a packed audience inside a Kenyon Wright Center classroom that the topic of human trafficking is not easy to discuss because some things cannot be “sugar coated.” Discussions can be graphic. She let those attending know if they needed to take a break from the discussion, that was OK.
“Human trafficking is basically modern-day slavery for the profit of someone else,” said Friesel, who works on “street outreach” in parts of Columbus to ferret out trafficking information. “It’s a very complex topic and sometimes it’s very traumatizing, too.”
Human trafficking occurs with “action”, the “means” to carry it out, and “purpose,” she explained. Action involves recruiting, harboring, transporting, and soliciting for potential victims. The means is divided into three areas: Force, fraud and coercion. Force involves physical and sexual assaults to keep victims in line; fraud typically involves false promises made through deception and is typical with labor trafficking; and coercion centers on threats of serious harm made against a person.
“It’s the hardest one to prove,” she said.
Human trafficking, Friesel said, is the second-fastest growing criminal industry on a global scale, behind only drug trafficking in its rate of expansion. Human trafficking is estimated to be a $150 billion enterprise worldwide, she noted.
Ohio ranks fourth among all states for the number of tips reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Friesel said. There are several reasons for that, she offered: The state has an efficient highway system allowing people to traverse it east to west in just a few hours and is in close proximity to other large cities near Ohio; Ohio is close to Canada; 24 percent of Ohio’s children live in poverty, making them susceptible to trafficking; Ohio ranks fifth among states in number of strip clubs; Ohio ranks eighth among number of colleges and universities per capita; and the state is home to a high number of truck stops.
“Human traffic is a market-driven crime,” she said, one based on supply and demand. And it is one that “can involve anyone around you” — even well-documented Ohio cases of parents who subjected their own children to sex or labor trafficking, she noted.
As insidious as human trafficking has become, it has only been designated as a federal crime in the past 19 years with passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000, Friesel said. Every state has its own definition of human trafficking, with some definitions more specific than others. Ohio lawmakers made “Trafficking in person” a first-degree felony in 2012 with the passage of House Bill 262, she offered. It involves a mandatory 10-year sentence.
But, she noted, a conviction of solicitation, which is often tied to human trafficking, is only punished upon conviction as a third-degree misdemeanor. Good news comes in the fact that Ohio law enforcement officers and school educators and staff are required to participate in training on how to recognize the signs of human trafficking.
“We are still unpacking what this (crime) looks like,” Friesel said, “in all its different layers.”
Following Friesel’s presentation, New Directions Director Lori Jones-Perkins called it an awesome educational experience, one packed “with more information shared than any training that I’ve been to locally.” Participants completed a short survey asking what they had learned the most about human trafficking.
If you suspect you have witnessed human trafficking, a proper response is to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, where anonymous tips are accepted.
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