Ohio's Courts Raise Awareness During Human Trafficking Prevention Month
By Csaba Sukosd | January 11, 2018
A number of organizations, including the Department of Defense, have labeled it as the world's largest growing crime, which finds its way into Ohio's courts every day. It is human trafficking.
Since a Presidential Proclamation in 2010, January has been designated as national slavery and human trafficking prevention month in the United States.
The crime is described as modern-day slavery where predators use force, fraud, or coercion to prey on vulnerable people. In most cases, victims are funneled into the commercial sex industry. The decree came in part because of misconceptions about the epidemic, in Ohio and nationwide.
"When the police bring me these search warrants, it's from every part of our town, every part of our city. Any place where there's a hotel and a highway, or anything of that nature, you're going to find people being taken advantage of," said Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Paul Herbert, who started the state's first human trafficking specialized docket in 2009.
Human rights organizations estimated a 13 percent jump in victims from 2016 to 2017 with the number of people exploited in the U.S. in the hundreds of thousands. A study by the Polaris Project - a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to combat modern-day slavery and human trafficking - states the average age girls are forced into prostitution is 13.
"Most people think it's something to do with foreign-born, isolated, small number of people like the movie 'Taken.' When in reality, 85 percent of the victims are local American girls," Judge Herbert said.
One reason local communities still can't comprehend just how close they are to that kind of captivity is the darkness that consumes its victims. Along with being too afraid to talk, many are ashamed of the complicated attachments to those who led them to drugs and prostitution. In Judge Herbert's program, "Changing Actions to Change Habits (CATCH)," one of the participants was trafficked by her husband. Many others suffered traumatic scars long before adulthood.
"The level of victimization that they've experienced since they were young people, the average age of their first rape was eight-and-a-half years old, and that changes a person significantly," Judge Herbert said.
He added that trauma paired with the opioid epidemic over the last decade has made the human trafficking crisis even more expansive as penetrates countless communities across multiple generations in Ohio.
"That could be your daughter or your mother. I never thought it would be me. It turns the people that you love into people that you don't know," said Cheyenne, another participant in CATCH court.