CELINA — Approximately 800,000 people are trafficked each year, and a major human trafficking hub is just up the interstate.
“Toledo was just bumped up to No. 3 in the country as a place for human trafficking,” Partnership for Violence Free Families Director Donna Dickman said Wednesday afternoon at a presentation to hosted by the Celina History Club. “That’s right up our interstate ... There is a huge, huge cross-section — we’ve got Detroit, we’ve got Atlanta, we have 80/90. We have of things going on to make this a hub for human trafficking.”
Human trafficking, Dickman said, is a form of modern-day slavery and is “an exploitation of men, women and children.” She noted two categories that people are trafficked for — labor trafficking, which includes domestic services, sweatshops and factories, begging and agricultural work, among others, and sex trafficking, which includes prostitution, pornography, stripping and mail-order brides, among others.
In order to prove people are being trafficked, there must be force, fraud or coercion, Dickman said.
“These are technical, legal terms that they use to prove that people are being trafficked,” she said. “These are terms that have to be proven when cases go to trial or for arrest for human trafficking.”
People are forced into trafficking through physical harm, she said.
“People are forced into doing what others want them to do by physical harm — beatings, raping, choking, confining,” Dickman said.
Fraud, she said, involves deceit.
“False or deceptive offers of employment, marriage or a better life,” Dickman said.
“A lot of times this is for the people overseas ... There are a lot of ways that these people are put to work with no pay and terrible living conditions.”
The third way that a person can be trafficked, Dickman said, is through coercion.
“Threats of serious harm to, or physical restraint of, any person; any scheme, plan or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that failure to perform an act would result in serious harm to or physical restraint against any person,” she said.
The elements needed for a conviction in human trafficking, she said, include: Recruiting, harboring, moving or obtaining; by force, fraud or coercion; and for the reasons of involuntary servitude, debt bondage, slavery or exploitation.
“This process has to be proved in a court of law,” Dickman said. “Thankfully, we now have laws to address human trafficking, where we did not have them before. Just in this past decade, things have been happening federally and in the state of Ohio.”
Traffickers, Dickman said, could be anybody.
“Would you recognize them right away — probably not,” she said. “They could be the next door neighbor, they could be a pimp, they could be the people that own restaurants — you don’t know. They look just like everyone else.”
Kids are recruited for trafficking at a variety of places, including malls, friends and family houses, courthouses and juvenile centers, corner stores and schools, she said.
Trafficking kids, she said, is common.
“Oftentimes, it comes to selling kids,” Dickman said, noting that researchers have found a 6-month-old infant that was used sexually and men that would pay $1,000 for 20 minutes to use girls aged 6-months to 12-years-old. “This is a huge, huge problem. It’s taken child abuse to whole new level.”
The potential for profit draws sex traffickers to the crime. In Washington, D.C., massage parlors that serve as prostitution fronts, Dickman said, can earn $33 million a year from five girls in a ring of 40 massage parlors.
“That’s pretty profitable,” Dickman said. “And that’s why it’s as big of a business as it is. There’s a huge amount of money to be made.”
To help fight human trafficking, Dickman encouraged area residents to keep an eye out for signs of trafficking and to inform law enforcement of any suspicions. Signs of trafficking, she said, can include stacks of plastic mattresses against the side of a building or privacy fences that seem out of place and are guarded.
“Oftentimes, they’ll bring these girls and women in from different countries and they’ll house them in a little shack that’s fenced in,” she said. “One of the first signs that you can notice is a stack of plastic mattresses on the outside because that’s what people sleep on. If you see stacks of mattresses against the side of a building, there’s a good change that there’s that type of activity going on, where they’re just trying to board people.”
Residents can be on the watch at businesses as well.
“Massage parlors or restaurants where people don’t speak English and they look fearful anytime you ask them anything personal, maybe there’s something going on,” she said. “It just takes a call to local law enforcement.”
An area organization recently formed to fight human trafficking in the area, Dickman said, encouraging anyone interested in more information to contact Laurel Weaver of the Northwest Ohio Human Trafficking Rescue & Restore Coalition at firstname.lastname@example.org.