A small article published by CNN on November 14, 2013 could have easily fallen through the cracks of acknowledgement for many readers who are unaware of the severity of human trafficking. However, the anti-human trafficking advocacy world caught it. After investigating a film company out of Toronto for over three years, law enforcement agencies from all over the world came together to make nearly 350 arrests and free over 380 children from sexual abuse and trafficking.

Of the 348 arrests made: forty were teachers, six worked in law enforcement, nine were pastors and priests, and some were doctors and nurses, according to CNN's "Police: Sex abuse arrests in Canada began with probe of company." The common misconception by citizens unaware of the world of human trafficking is that "thugs" and "pimps" are the brains and driving force behind human trafficking. Sadly enough, it is these businessmen, doctors, police officers, teachers, priests, and other trusted members of society that are the ugly face of human trafficking.

Human trafficking is considered a modern-day slavery that typically involves physical and emotional bondage or force to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Unlike typical media where victims are often shown as young females, trafficking victims can be of any nationality, age, gender, or race. According to material presented by Second Chance and The Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition, 40% of Toledo women involved in the sex trade were commercially exploited before they were 18 years of age. The following experiences occurred at least a year before they were exploited to this percentage of them:

  • 58% had a much older boyfriend
  • 26% had a close family member with a mental illness
  • 26% were worried about what to eat and where to sleep
  • 26% had a close family member in the sex trade
  • 32% were homeless
  • 26% were involved with child protection services
  • 11% had difficulty making friends
  • 53% had a poor family
  • 53% had difficulty in school
  • 53% dropped out of school
  • 53% were raped

Furthermore, trafficking victims are prevented from obtaining help or escaping the situation through power and control by the trafficker. Traffickers use tactics such as sexual abuse, isolation, emotional abuse, intimidation, coercion and threats, economic abuse, physical abuse, denying/blaming/minimizing, and false privilege to keep victims brainwashed. According to the Rescue and Restore Campaign by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, there is simply not enough awareness in our communities to combat this human trafficking.

So what can we do to help?

If citizens of every community learn to recognize the signs of human trafficking, it will undoubtedly enable a greater number of victims to be identified. Education, then, has become a very important part of preventing human trafficking. According to Celeste Rollins, student at Lourdes University and volunteer with Second Chance, "The biggest thing we need to do is awareness. It's no longer that you have to travel in numbers, because they [the traffickers] travel in numbers." As the film company just detailed above demonstrates: it's not just the "thug" on the side of the controlling human trafficking. It's the innocent parties, the businesses, and even high school adolescents who are behind this modern slavery.

One of the easiest ways to recognize human trafficking is to know what to look for and how to ask the right questions. For example, a possible trafficking victim may be: accompanied by a controlling person, is not allowed to speak on their own behalf, does not control their own schedule, money, I.D. and travel documents, is transported to or from work, lives and works in the same place, has debt that is owned to an employer, is unable to leave their job, has bruises, depression, and fear, and is overly submissive. If you notice any of these signs, simple questions to ask the victim include:

  • What type of work do you do?
  • Are you being paid?
  • Can you leave your job if you want to?
  • Can you come and go as you please?
  • Have you or your family been threatened?
  • What are your working and living conditions like?
  • Where do you sleep and eat?
  • Do you have to ask permission to eat/sleep/go to the bathroom?
  • Are there locks on the doors/windows so you cannot get out?
  • Has you identification or documentation been taken from you?

While it is not the point for citizens of a community to put themselves into danger while pursuing a trafficking victim, these identification and questioning techniques can be used in a variety of public situations. Not every trafficking victim is kept locked in their home; many traffickers take their victims out into public places such as malls and restaurants where they can easily be recognized if citizens know what to look for.

If you have the slightest belief that yourself, someone you know, or someone you identified out in public is a victim of human trafficking, you are asked to immediately call the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-3737-888. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center can help you determine if you have encountered a human trafficking victim, find local resources for victims, and communicate with local social service organizations that can help victims begin to rebuild their lives.

In the Toledo area there are three local organizations that focus on preventing and combatting trafficking and helping the victims. The Daughter Project is a long term group home for trafficked youth in Northwest Ohio. Second Chance is a program that provides trafficked victims with short term housing, assessments, case management, and helps to connect victims with other local organizations. The Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition is directly partnered with the Resource and Restore Campaign founded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement and coordinates anti-trafficking efforts within the Toledo community. Through these local organizations, every human trafficking victim in the Toledo area will be able to find help and be connected with resources.

For many of us it is difficult to believe that something as violent and offensive as human trafficking is happening frequently under our own noses. Human trafficking does not only happen in a run-down hotel in the bad parts of town. Human trafficking often occurs in the rural "safe" areas, the local mall, and even out of your own home. The best way to stop and prevent trafficking is to be aware of what is going on around you. If you're a parent, make sure you check up on your children when they say they are going to a friend's house or a party. Young adults, be aware of what is going on around you when you're walking to your car after a late shopping trip. Awareness and education by all citizens is the first step to combating human trafficking. If we're persistent, our combined efforts will eventually create a safer Toledo for generations to come.