Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Office warns that human trafficking is a multibillion dollar a year industry that preys on the most vulnerable members of society – women and children. In fact, targets of human traffickers often have additional weaknesses to exploit. They may be homeless, poor and/or battle a drug/alcohol addiction. Freedom Hall Recovery Center Administrator Angie Pelphrey explained that human trafficking and the drug epidemic are entangled and as the drug epidemic grows, human trafficking expands into new communities.
“We hear a lot about human trafficking in the local area from Scioto County to Ross County,” Pelphrey commented.
Freedom Hall is an addiction recovery center that has been working with young girls that have been taken into the sex industry and now struggle to recover. Pelphrey explained that many of the girls at Freedom Hall come from other parts of the country because when they are rescued the goal is to remove them from the area. The first girl taken in arrived from Flint, Mich. Many of the girls coming now are rescued from the North Carolina area.
“It’s a scary situation because the majority want to go back,” Pelphrey stated.
By the time the girls are rescued, they have been manipulated and controlled for so long that they believe they were loved with their abuser.
Pelphrey explained that she worked with one girl who had been trafficked by a guy she was dating. She had met the guy and developed a relationship. He built up her confidence overtime, telling her how beautiful she was daily. Then, he started taking her make up and hair products. He started finding little ways to control her and degrade her. Soon, he was also getting her intoxicated on drug and alcohol. Eventually, she would do anything to get his approval, anything to make him happy. He would sell her in videos and also invite men over to have sex with her for money. By the time the girl was rescued from the situation, she had no self worth remaining. Pelphrey explained that they would have group counseling sessions where they would sit her in the middle of the group and go around the circle telling her that she was strong and beautiful and worthy of love. It often takes a lot of time to build these girls back up.
Pelphrey explained that Freedom Hall has a mobile ministries program through which those in recovery give back to the community by feeding the homeless, prostitutes and children. The phenomenon that she has seen is that girls that are part of human trafficking rings operated out of bigger cities such as Columbus are being brought down to cities such as Chillicothe, Waverly and Portsmouth where they are sold. Due to the increase in human trafficking and the specifically the increase in Southern Ohio, Pelphrey says over the last couple years freedom hall has started keeping emergency beds just for girls that have been trafficked.
When speaking of the local impact of human trafficking, Lisa Roberts with the Portsmouth City Health Department stated, “It has been documented that human trafficking and the opioid epidemic in America go hand-in-hand because addicted women are really vulnerable to being put into human trafficking for profit. It has been a common practice in other countries, mainly poor Asian countries like Burma and Thailand, for hundreds of years to intentionally addict women and children to opium in order to traffic them and use them in sex slavery. So the parallel between the opiate epidemic in the U.S. and an increase in human trafficking in this country shouldn’t surprise anyone.”
For more information about human trafficking and the signs to watch for in your community, visit http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/HumanTrafficking.
Editor’s note: This is the first story in a continuous human trafficking series that will be featured every Saturday.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1930.