Brenna Shippy
Staff Writer

Human Trafficking is a modern form of slavery involving kidnapping and physical and sexual abuse and is one of the largest criminal industries in the world.  Human trafficking is a 32 billion dollar a year industry that reaches into our own backyards, right here in Lorain County.

On March 11, 2014 representatives of the Human Trafficking Collaborative of Lorain County (HTCLC) spoke with students and faculty at an event at Lorain County Community College to raise awareness about the issue.

Lorain County’s HTCLC representative Kristi Miller, previously spoke with students last fall when she was invited to speak to sociology students on the issue.  Miller has been working with women and children in crisis for many years. She began working with HTCLC in 2010 and has presented informational forums to thousands of people regarding Human Trafficking. As assistant director of HTCLC, Miller is a registered advocate with senior standing in the state, having 10k hours plus advocating for victims of domestic violence/sexual assault.

Accompanying Miller, other speakers included Shawn Cleveland, a homeless advocate and youth minister, Angel Arroyo Jr., Mike Ferrer, director of Programs at the Lorain County Urban League, Michelle Gillcrist, office of the attorney general, and Mindi Kuebler, nurse at HTCLC.

According to Miller, second to drug trafficking. Victims of trafficking are forced to engage in transportation, prostitution, commercial sex, or acts of exploitation through labor such as restaurant work or factory work. Anyone can be a victim of human trafficking: women, men, children, well-educated or not. The average age of those trafficked are between 12 to 14 years old.

Arroyo speaks on this serious subject, mentioning 99% of the victims never come home, and the average victim has sex 20-30 times a day. “We, as a community, need to look for these victims,” said Arroyo. One of the problems Arroyo focuses on is the challenges police face when trying to locate missing persons. Lieutenant Deena Beaker states of Elyria Police Department, “Manpower is the issue.”

“Human trafficking is frequently carried out online on websites such as Backpage.com, said Miller.  “The websites operate 24 hours a day and at any given time one can look at multiple listings of women soliciting sex.”

Every hotel/motel in Lorain County is a possible location that can have human trafficking going on at any time, any day of the week.

According to report from the HTCLC approximately 1200 children in Ohio have been identified as victims of sex trafficking and rescued, with thousands more yet to be found.

HTCLC has been working in this county since 2009, reporting over 40 known victims in this county alone of both sex and labor trafficking.  HTCLC provides education and awareness of modern day slavery as well as works collaboratively with law enforcement, mental health, and social service agencies here in the county.

HTCLC also works with the FBI and other federal agencies. Ohio is considered a transportation state with many victims being kidnapped from here and taken out of state.

Being aware of how trafficking works is the first step for people to protect themselves, even on the LCCC campus. To avoid becoming a victim, walk with a purpose, walk in groups, be very cautious of what you post online and who you “friend” and report to campus security if anything seems suspicious. To help those that could be in danger look for key signs such as physical or psychological abuse. If the person is fearful, before questioning that person to see if they may be a victim of human trafficking, discretely separate that person from the individual accompanying her/him, since this person could be the trafficker posing as a spouse, other family member or employer. Use the National Trafficking Hotline Number when traveling to report anything suspicious. Save the national number, 888-373-7888, or the local hotline, 440-714-1380, to your cell phone.

For additional resources, contact Rachel Lloyd, founder and chief executive officer of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS). The GEMS program provides help for girls and young women survivors of sex and domestic trafficking.  Visit the GEMS website at http://www.gems-girls.org.

Other resources include Shawn Cleveland, also an assistant director of HTCLC, who works with the homeless at Gathering Hope House and Mindi Kuebler, director of HTCLC, who is part of the Attorney Generals Human Trafficking Commission as well as the Director of Nursing for Ohio Guidestone.

Any one of these individuals can be reached through Human Trafficking Collaborative of Lorain County, Lorain, OH. 440-714-1380 or through their email: htclc3@yahoo.com. Visit http://www.polarisproject.org for more information.