Seminar to highlight human trafficking problems in Scioto County


By Tom Corrigan - tcorrigan@aimmediamidwest.com



“Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. Victims of human trafficking are young children, teenagers, men and women. The International Labor Organization estimates that over 40 million are being trafficked worldwide in this estimated $150 billion annual global enterprise. (ILO, 2014, 2017) Victims of human trafficking are subjected to force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor. After drug dealing, trafficking of humans is thought to be the second largest criminal industry in the world and is the fastest growing.” (US Department of State, Department of Health and Human Services)

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Setting aside near constant but unproved rumors regarding certain local business people, Scioto and neighboring Pike County probably do not seem as if they would be hotbeds for human trafficking. But have no doubt it happens here and throughout Ohio say the organizers and speakers for an upcoming seminar, “Human Trafficking: Modern-Day Slavery,” set for 2 p.m. October 5 at the Scioto County Welcome Center, 342 Second St.

How often does it happen locally?

“We don’t have reliable statistics,” said Sr. Anne Victory, a Roman Catholic nun who is also the director of education for the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking headquartered in Cleveland.

“It’s happening in every ZIP code,” said Victory, who is the keynote speaker for the Portsmouth seminar, which also will feature specialized training for emergency response personnel.

One of the listed objectives for the seminar is to define human trafficking. So, what exactly is the crime of human trafficking? According to Victory, it is forcing a person, most often women, into forced labor, or sexual exploitation often meaning forced prostitution. Human trafficking does happen with men, but those victims usually are used for forced labor and the overwhelming percentage of human trafficking victims are women, according to Victory.

“They are enslaved, they can’t leave,” Victory said. “You will not see chains and ropes, but the psychological bonds are just as strong.”

Another stated goal of the seminar is to teach persons how to recognize the signs of human trafficking in the case of both victims and perpetrators.

“First of all, trust your gut,” Victory said. “If it doesn’t seem right, it very well might not be.”

Your first stop should probably be your local police force or a county sheriff’s office. You may need to get a hold of a rape crisis center or some similar organization to help the victim. Victory said you can expect victims of human trafficking to be in mentally and quite possibly physically very bad shape. “It’s very traumatic,” she said.

Rhiannon Gill is with the Pike County Coalition for Ending Human Trafficking. Gill will conduct specialized training for law enforcement personnel designed to enable them to recognize instances of human trafficking and provide victims with the appropriate aid.

For example, Pike County is home to Johnson House, a safe-haven for human trafficking victims. One key to helping survivors obviously is to separate them from their captors which may mean going so far as to get the survivor out of state.

Gill claims there are several telltale signs which signal someone is being held against their will. The person never will likely be seen alone but always in the company of their handler. They will have no money of their own and no, or fake, identification. Gill talked about captors gaining phony Social Security cards for their victims and changing those cards repeatedly.

Further, the victim likely will not speak for themselves. Don’t expect them to look you in the eye. There likely will be no obvious signs of physical abuse; their captors don’t want to damage what they consider essentially to be merchandise.

While Victory talked about there being no reliable statistics regarding human trafficking, Gill threw out a few numbers. In 2017, Ohio saw just over 200 human trafficking investigations and roughly 72 arrests resulting in a relatively small number of convictions for whatever reason. In January, officials identified just over 200 potential victims and some 250 “consumers.” How exactly does someone become the victim of human trafficking? Gill talked about potential victims being geographically isolated such as in rural or semi-rural areas, including Scioto County. She said victims or potential victims often come from what are traditionally considered broken homes and quite possibly have parents with addiction problems.

Essentially, they meet someone who begins to pay attention to them, to take care of them, give them gifts and so forth. The victim may begin to feel as if they owe something to the bearer of those gifts. Gill noted another common tactic is to introduce the victim to drugs if they are not already addicted.

In her job, Gill works with survivors and told a harrowing story about one woman who claimed she had never taken hard drugs until being forcibly shot up with something over and over. During brief periods of lucidity, the woman said she always found a different man on top of her, raping her. She remembers very little else but knows she was moved from one state to another. Gill noted there are five major highways running through this area making it very easy for traffickers to move their victims from one state to another.

Is it possible for someone to come back from such a nightmarish experience and become a well-adjusted, productive person? Gill said she grew up with someone who attended Clay High School and later became a human trafficking victim. She further described that person as now being a contributing member of society.

“It’s not easy but it can happen,” Gill said.

The Oct. 5 seminar is being sponsored and organized primarily by Grace B. Martin of the Scioto County Medical Society; Community Action of Portsmouth; and, the Portsmouth City Health Department.

Martin said it started with emails from the Ohio Hospital and the Ohio State Medical associations. They wanted to know if the Southern Ohio Medical Center had protocols for recognizing and dealing with the victims of human trafficking.

“They’re trying to do this all over the state of Ohio,” Martin said.

As it turned out, SOMC had nothing in place. Martin added as she began to investigate the issue, it occurred to her and others with the large drug problem locally there also may be a large trafficking problem of which people are simply not fully cognizant. Although she didn’t say so, Martin almost certainly hopes the upcoming seminar will mark at least the beginnings of a change to that situation.

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By Tom Corrigan

tcorrigan@aimmediamidwest.com