Local law enforcement did not respond to requests for comment, at least not in time for the deadline for this story. Persons directly involved in dealing with human trafficking have said there are no reliable statistics for how often it happens locally or in Ohio.
However, organizers intend their next step to be putting together a Scioto County Human Trafficking Coalition following Friday’s human trafficking seminar organized by the Scioto County Medical Society, among other local organizations.
“It’s happening in every ZIP code,” said Sr. Anne Victory, in speaking about human trafficking in Ohio prior to Friday’s Portsmouth event.
Victory is a Roman Catholic nun who is also the director of education for the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking headquartered in Cleveland. She was among those in attendance at Friday’s seminar held at the Scioto County Welcome Center and also featured specialized training for emergency response personnel.
Even if there are no exact numbers, according to a state attorney general’s report, in 2017, there were 208 potential victims of human trafficking identified statewide. Of those, 193 were female, 110 were Caucasian and the largest number were between the ages of 21 and 29.
The same report identified 178 suspected traffickers, 139 of whom were African-Americans, with the majority being between the ages of 21 and 59, although four traffickers were identified as teenagers. The suspected consumers of human trafficking services were overwhelmingly male and numbered 194.
Another portion of the state report lists numerous factors as contributing to a victim being trafficked: drug or alcohol dependency, being a runaway or homeless and being undocumented were among the major factors.
One of the listed objectives for the Portsmouth seminar was to define human trafficking. Michelle Gillcrist, a managing attorney in the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, told her Portsmouth audience there are differences between the state and federal laws regarding what constitutes human trafficking. In many instances, she said, law enforcement and/or the alleged victim must prove fraud or force was used to coerce any victim into doing something against their will. However, Ohio law provides no coercion need be proven in cases involving victims under the age of 16 or who are mentally challenged.
Gillcrist also talked a bit about Ohio House Bill 262, passed in 2012. The so-called Safe Harbor Bill created a specialized program specifically aimed at aiding juvenile human trafficking victims and significantly increased penalties. According to a Google search, the law also created new rules targeting persons who, for example, hire juveniles for sexual purposes.
Moving away from legal issues, during her talk Friday, Gillcrist made the point human traffickers are not some cliched Hollywood pimps in fur coats driving Cadillacs.
“We have traffickers who are in high school,” Gillcrist said. She added there have been instances of family members selling other family members. She told one story of a mother who was using her 11-year-old daughter as a prostitute to support her heroin habit.
Gillcrist said the overwhelming majority of human trafficking victims are female. However, gay or transgender males also have been trafficked for sex. Male trafficking victims also are used commonly for forced labor. She talked about one large Ohio case she said involved numerous immigrants used as forced labor on a farm.
Rhiannon Gill is with the Pike County Coalition for Ending Human Trafficking. Gill was scheduled to conduct specialized training for law enforcement personnel designed to enable them to recognize instances of human trafficking and provide victims with 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.
Speaking both before and after Friday’s seminar, Gill and Gillcrist said 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.
As Scioto County currently has no human trafficking coalition, Gillcrist talked about using or contacting, if needed, a coalition which is headquartered in Cincinnati.
In addition to the Scioto County Medical Society, other sponsors of Friday’s event were the Community Action Organization of Scioto County and the Portsmouth City Health Department. Scioto County Medical Society Administrator Grace B. Martin said she hopes to have some sort of meeting regarding the organization of a local coalition possibly sometime in November.
“I had a lot more people show up than I thought I would,” said Martin, one of the key organizers of Friday’s seminar.