Tag Archive: Ohio

Monroe County Sheriff Launches V.I.P.E.R. Task Force To Combat Human Trafficking

September 16, 2021

MONROE, Michigan — The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office launched a new crime task force to combat human trafficking.

The announcement of the new task force was made during a news conference Thursday morning at the Monroe County Emergency Management building.

The new team is called V.I.P.E.R., which stands for Violent Internet Predator Exploitation Response. It’s made up of members from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, Monroe Police Department and Michigan State Police.

They started in July and two of their operations have led to the arrest of five alleged predators – some from Toledo. All five were charged with one count of child sexually abusive activity – a 20 year felony – one count of accosting a child for immoral purposes and one count of using a computer and internet to commit a crime.

“The national statistics are very clear. For every individual we take off the street, we save 24 victims,” said Sheriff Troy Goodnough.

The task force was trained by the Genessee County G.H.O.S.T. team in Mid-Michigan.


Designing With a Heart: How a Dressmaker Uses Fashion to Fight Human Trafficking

March 25, 2021

CINCINNATI — In a sea of white, there’s a beaded bodice, tulle skirt or sleek silhouette that suits every bride, and behind each beautiful gown is a careful, meticulous hand and dedicated designer.

At Renée Grace Bridal, that’s Teresa Eklund. The designer has more than 30 years of experience designing wedding gowns and five years running her own business, but what sets her work apart is its heart. She does her best to ensure each gown is as ethically-made as possible.

Many beautiful gowns have an ugly history due to fast fashion, labor exploitation and human trafficking.

As a seasoned designer, Eklund wanted to examine her role industry’s role in that system.

About 10 years ago, she and her husband Steve made a trip to India and Moldova for research. There she learned just how common trafficking is and how inextricable it is from many of the products we consume.

“Women in Moldova have a 90% chance of being trafficked of some sort,” Eklund said.

That can be for the sex trade, debt bondage or forced labor. The fashion industry depends heavily on that last one, using sweatshop labor to produce inexpensive clothing they can import and sell for cheap.

“There has been a trend over the last probably 20 years of what we call in the industry fast fashion,” Eklund said. “That turn around of fashion that people want really quickly. They want the consumerism that’s fed into that.”

Eklund said even higher-end portions of the fashion industry are not immune.

“Most wedding gowns are made in China or Eastern Europe,” she said.

When Eklund started her own company, she wanted to make a difference.

“I have less than 10% of my fabrics from China,” she said. “Ninety-five percent of my laces come from either France, Italy or England.”

The most significant difference though is her staff.

Read the full story by Michelle Alfini on Spectrum News 1.

Ohio Attorney General: Anti-Human Trafficking Operation Nets 179 Arrests

December 24, 2020

Ohio’s attorney general said Monday that a statewide human trafficking crackdown last week netted more than 170 arrests and also helped locate children who were missing.

Attorney General Dave Yost said his office joined federal, state and local law enforcement in Operation Autumn Hope.

“The success of Operation Autumn Hope is measured not only in the number of arrests but in the lives that were rescued from this evil,” Yost said in a statement. “Every agency on this team looks for the day when no person is bought and sold in Ohio. Don’t buy sex in Ohio!”

The Attorney General’s Office said the goal of the operation was to rescue victims of human trafficking and refer them to social services, apprehend those seeking to have sex with a minor, arrest male johns seeking to buy sex, and recover missing and exploited children.

During the operation, 179 people were arrested from a variety of unrelated cases and 109 human trafficking victims were located and/or referred to social services, Yost’s office said.

Also, children who were considered missing were helped.

To read the full story by Parker Perry on The Dayton Daily News: Click Here

Advocates Fight Traffickers Who Continue To Thrive Despite Pandemic

May 18, 2020

CLEVELAND (CNS) — Advocates fighting human traffickers are alerting children, parents and vulnerable adults that the coronavirus pandemic has pushed traffickers into new venues, potentially endangering more people to being exploited.

Seemingly innocent online venues are becoming popular places for sex traffickers to groom unwitting children and entice adults facing financial turmoil because of the pandemic. The danger is leading the advocates to call for funding of anti-trafficking programs in any new federal legislation in response to the public health crisis.

The pandemic’s impact on labor trafficking is less certain, but the advocates warn that people desperate for work may be prone to employment schemes in which they are cheated out of promised wages.

What is known, according to the Polaris Project, which operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, is that buyers of sex are as active as ever, pandemic or not.

“Anecdotally, we have heard from survivors that trafficking victims are now being forced to participate in remote, web-based sexual activity or pornography and that the marketplace for those activities has grown,” the organization said in an April 17 post on its blog at polarisproject.org. “It’s important to remind buyers of these materials that a person on a webcam or in a pornographic video is as likely to be a trafficking victim as a person selling sex in any other environment.”

That poses dangers for children especially, said Jennifer Reyes Lay, executive director of U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking.

“With the restrictions and limited mobility and physical distancing, the fear is that particularly children, but anyone who can be a potential victim, is going to be more targeted through online sources,” she said.

“Electronic communications and social media networks have become more important than ever,” Lay told Catholic News Service. “We are trying to think of creative ways to reach people and get the message out while they’re at home.”

Tracking the inroads of traffickers into new online venues is difficult. They are able to move silently through online sites frequented by children, who are spending more unsupervised time surfing the internet while at home. Once identified, traffickers quickly move on, hiding out in cyberspace waiting for the next young person to show up.

Concern among the advocates largely rests in online pornography.

“There is a huge demand for pornography online right now,” said Hilary Chester, associate director for anti-trafficking programs with Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “People (traffickers) are going to try to meet that demand. There are real concerns about people being coerced into it, not realizing they are being recorded.”

While it is difficult to track the emerging trends in the actions of traffickers, experience has shown they are adept at maneuvering around their trackers and their motivation is money.

“Once they realize somebody’s on to them, they’ve switched,” said Charity Sister Sally Duffy, a member of the End Slavery Cincinnati, an anti-human trafficking coalition.

Tori Curbelo, manager of education, training and advocacy for LifeWay Network in Forest Hills, New York, described traffickers as opportunistic.

“Their services follow supply and demand,” she explained. “Our hunch is the more demand, the more traffickers will try to meet the needs of individuals online.”

The chairmen of three USCCB committees recently called on Attorney General William Barr to “confront the ongoing harms wrought by the pornography industry and to protect its victims.”

In an April 30 letter, they urged Barr to enforce obscenity laws, open criminal investigations of pornography producers and website owners, and carry out “national leadership in encouraging states and localities to develop rigorous policies against the industry.”

Pornography, they said, is the “antithesis” of Pope Francis’ reflection during a March 27 prayer service in the throes of the pandemic in Italy that “affirmed our common ‘belonging as brothers and sisters’ in the midst of crisis” deserving of human dignity and respect.

To read the full article by Dennis Sadowski on Catholic News Service: Click Here

Human Trafficking Lawsuits Allege Hotels Ignored Problem

January 20, 2020

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Lawyers representing human trafficking victims want a single federal judge to oversee multiple lawsuits alleging that major hotel chains have ignored human trafficking taking place on their premises.

Attorneys have asked a federal panel to consolidate at least 21 such lawsuits pending in 11 states into a single case in federal court in Columbus, arguing that the lawsuits contain the same basic allegations.

“Human traffickers have capitalized on the hospitality industry’s refusal to adopt and implement industry-wide standards and anti-trafficking policies and procedures, including, but not limited to, training hotel staff on how to identify obvious and well-known signs of sex trafficking,” according to a court filing earlier this month seeking to consolidate the cases.

In Columbus, a woman who was trafficked for months has sued three hotel chains, alleging they knew she was being forced to work as a prostitute in hotel rooms for days on end — forced to serve up to 10 johns a day — but hotel employees didn’t do anything.

The lawsuit says hotel staff overlooked easily observed signs of trafficking, including trash cans full of condoms, payment for rooms in cash, and refusal of housekeeping services.

“Despite her desperate pleas and screams for help, after being beaten or choked at the Defendants’ hotel properties, the hotel staff ignored her and did nothing to prevent the ongoing and obvious torture she endured while she was regularly trafficked for sex at Defendants’ hotel properties,” according to the March 9 lawsuit.

In Virginia in 2012, a woman said she was trafficked out of hotels owned by Wyndham Hotels — such as a Super 8 in Hampton, Virginia — by a man she sought refuge with after facing homelessness. The woman was forced to perform sex acts on men at least seven times a day but sometimes twice that and her trafficker paid hotel staff to look the other way, a Dec. 2 lawsuit alleged.

The men, many of them repeat customers, entered through the front lobby, the lawsuit said.

“I felt invisible the whole entire time,” the 32-year-old woman told The Associated Press. “That was the worst part, is knowing that people knew and nobody was willing to help.”

The AP does not identify victims of sexual assault.

To read the full story by Andrew Welsh-Huggins on APNews: Click Here

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Exhibition Reveals Grim Reality Of Human Trafficking

January 13, 2020

Motel X opens January 11

CINCINNATI – Since 2012, human trafficking cases have steadily increased in the United States, rising to 10,949 cases reported last year. Ohio mirrors those numbers, with over 400 cases reported in 2018. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (NURFC) is hoping to increase awareness and action against human trafficking with its new exhibition Motel X. The exhibition opens January 11, 2020 – Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

Cincinnati sits on one of the worst highways for human trafficking in the United States. I-75 provides an easy pipeline for traffickers to transport people thousands of miles through multiple states. Many people are unaware of the practical knowledge that could help prevent human trafficking and possibly save victims. Designed by local filmmaker Christine Marque specifically for display at NURFC, Motel X hopes to evoke an empathetic link to practical knowledge, give people the opportunity to fight against the atrocity of human trafficking and give survivors a platform to share their stories.

Motel X has been a three-year journey and I am very excited to see it come to life,” says Shrum. “My hope is that this exhibition changes the way people think about human trafficking and encourages a new generation of modern day abolitionists.”

Motel X is an interactive motel for guests to explore. As they walk through the motel door, through the room, guests encounter the story of a teenage girl forced into sex slavery by human traffickers. Exiting the room and entering the bathroom, guests are introduced to an immigrant worker inadvertently caught up in trafficking humans. Throughout the exhibition clues reveal warning signs, statistics and actions that can help combat human trafficking. Interactive clues include audio tracks, dressers with items of clothing that reveal information when moved and a bedside Bible that, when opened, reveals stark facts about human trafficking. As guests exit the bathroom, they enter a gallery that will feature artwork from local survivors.

“The fight for freedom is not one of past or future generations but is one that is being fought every day by this generation,” says Woody Keown, Jr., president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. “Through education and awareness, we can equip this generation to push back against those human traffickers preying on people, and we can begin to shut down the flow of humans being exploited and abused right here in Greater Cincinnati.”

Motel X will run January 11 through April 5, 2020. Visit https://freedomcenter.org/motelx to learn more.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center remains committed to ending human trafficking as part of their End Slavery Now initiative. You can learn more about the initiative at endslaverynow.org.


About the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center opened in August 2004 on the banks of the Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. Since then, more than 1.3 million people have visited its permanent and changing exhibits and public programs, inspiring everyone to take courageous steps for freedom. Two million people have utilized educational resources online at freedomcenter.org, working to connect the lessons of the Underground Railroad to inform and inspire today’s global and local fight for freedom. Partnerships include Historians Against Slavery, Polaris Project, Free the Slaves, US Department of State and International Justice Mission. In 2014, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center launched a new online resource in the fight against modern slavery, endslaverynow.org.

A Pioneering Ohio Courtroom Helps Trafficking Victims Find Hope

November 6, 2019

A diversion program for victims of human trafficking is spreading to cities around the country. The model has roots in Columbus, Ohio, where a judge decided to direct women toward rehabilitation instead of jail.

Ten years ago, Judge Paul Herbert was sitting in a courtroom when he noticed a trend. He was seeing lots of women who were abused and forced into sex work, but they were being treated like criminals.

“The sheriff brings the next defendant out on the wall chained up,” Herbert says, “and it’s a woman and she’s all beat up, she’s looking exactly like one of these victims of domestic violence except she’s in handcuffs and a jail suit. I look down at the file and it says prostitute.”

Herbert realized the law didn’t recognize these women as victims of human trafficking. So he pitched the idea of a courtroom dedicated to recovery, not punishment. It’s called CATCH Court, which stands for Changing Actions To Change Habits.

“We didn’t have the vocabulary that we do, even the vocabulary, let alone the way society looked at these women,” Herbert says. “So it was pretty much, we were kind of a laughingstock.”

To read and listen to the full story by Paige Pfleger on NPR: Click Here

CATCH Court Provides Beacon Of Hope For Human Trafficking Victims

July 15, 2019

At the very end of a long municipal court hallway that mostly smells of sweat and despair, Vanessa Perkins turns slowly as she tries to decide where to sit for a quick afternoon break.

She looks to the left, to the right and back left again before she finally settles on a low-slung table. All the shabby blue chairs are doubles and would put her too close to people. And right now what Perkins needs most is space.

It has been an emotional day inside Courtroom 12C at the Franklin County Municipal Court building, where she is bailiff for Judge Paul Herbert. On most days, she does the same as any bailiff here: manages misdemeanor caseloads, handles the paperwork and deals with the myriad of problems that arise.

But this is a Thursday, and Thursdays and Fridays are different. That’s when Judge Herbert presides over CATCH Court (Changing Actions To Change Habits), a specialty docket for women in the system who are victims of human trafficking. After a lifetime of abuse, years of battling alcoholism and drug addiction and thousands of days running the streets of Franklinton, Perkins was among the first to graduate after CATCH started a decade ago this fall. Now, she is its highest officer.

On this recent day, about 16 current women of CATCH — gathered in a relaxed semicircle with the judge sitting on a chair near them, and Perkins and a probation officer sitting close by — were asking one another questions as part of peer-to-peer work. A woman named Jamie Vanover asked Perkins for advice. As per custom in this court, however, the first question posed was: “How many days you got?”

To read the full story by Holly Zachariah on The Columbus Dispatch: Click Here

Advocates Say Awareness Is Vital Tool In Fight Against Human Trafficking

March 5, 2019

Hundreds of people gathered in Columbus for the 10th annual Human Trafficking Awareness Day to discuss the most pressing issues related to the issue and share what has been working in their communities.

Advocates, law enforcement, attorneys and human trafficking survivors filled the Ohio Statehouse atrium for the conference hosted by Sen. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) and Rep. Tavia Galonski (D-Akron).

When Fedor first created this event just a few dozen people were in attendance, now more than 400 participate.

She says success can be measured by the ideas and best practices that are shared throughout the day.

“Bring everyone together and comb through the aspect of their policy, their procedures, and think of a trafficking victim, and can they service them. Can they rescue them? Can they service them? Provide restoration and help them get back to a life worth living in America,” says Fedor.

Groups from different backgrounds and professions have tables set up to share what they’re doing to help survivors of human trafficking.

To read and listen to the full story by Andy Chow on Statehouse News Bureau: Click Here

December, 2018 Monthly Reflection

December 3, 2018

Passionate and Alive

by Kathleen Bryant, RSC

Borders were definitely not barriers to communication, sharing of passion and collaboration when we came together in Cleveland.  Imagine throwing a party and inviting people you had never met from a variety of cultures, languages, countries and backgrounds. What would make that gathering a success?   We have the recipe! 

After months of planning for the Hemispheric Meeting which took place in Cleveland OH Oct. 24-27thwe were enlivened by what happened among us and between us.  There is a vivid account of our gathering on Global Sisters Report.

In our planning we made sure that we included survivors or thrivers who had experienced human trafficking personally.  We also made huge efforts to ensure that everything we did was inclusive.  The rituals and liturgy were designed to hear different voices, to include different cultural expressions and to make everyone feel at home in the sacred space.  We chose a skilled facilitator and a global woman religious, Veronica Brand RSHM, well schooled in the issue of human trafficking to guide us through these days.  Veronica was key to our cohesiveness and movement forward.

What were the surprises of grace? What were the 4 takeaways from the experience of the hemispheric meeting? 

  1. Although we had never met most participants before the meeting, there was an instant bond, even at the airport, created by the common mission and passion that we shared.  I met sisters who had just arrived at the airport around the same time I did and language was not obstacle to the affection and warmth we exchanged.
  2. We are people of faith. There was a deep grounding of belief that fueled our songs, rituals and liturgy.  We believe that we are partners with God  whose will is that each person be free.  We began our Welcoming Ritual with the song, Somos El Cuerpo de Cristo!People were invited to pick up one of the percussion instruments and we had quite a lively rendition that immediately sparked a spirit of joy and enthusiasm.
  3. We were there because of others. Gabriella Bottani, director of Talitha Kum, suggested this hemispheric meeting. It was a Spirit- inspired initiative and so was the ensuing process.  We were there because of generous benefactors who helped fund airfares, room and board, and all the other expenses that go into such a meeting. We are grateful for those organizations and religious communities that supported us and we felt their presence in spirit.
  4. We were deeply moved in our hearts by the stories of two incredible Thrivers/Survivors of human trafficking. The impact of this experience was evident in the shared collective empathy and heartfelt gratitude for these strong advocate leaders, Flor Molina  and Marlene Carson.  We were determined as a network to be survivor- in Flor and Marlene began the Liturgy, as they broke open the Word, with the stories of their lives, and then we processed to the chapel.  We received gratefully their wisdom coming from their leadership and lived experience. 

We knew we would hear 8 reports one day about how the different networks were trying to end HT.  We hoped that our coming together would create new partnerships and collaboration among us in this hemisphere.  We planned and we hoped and all that unfolded went far beyond those plans and hopes.

The energy, joy and bond among us was remarkable.  Yes, we had translators and equipment.  But we soon discovered sitting at meals and socializing together that there was so much more to communication than language facility.  At the evening socials, we experienced song and dance from each culture. Several brought elaborate traditional dress to make the dances vivid and engaging.  We reverenced the diverse expressions among us. 

The ease with which all of this unfolded was sign of our shared solidarity, deep faith and joy in the expressions we shared.  We, the planning committee, wondered if this meeting would work!  When every attendee received her visa months previous, it was surely God’s confirmation that all would be well.  And we can enthusiastically affirm that all went well, thanks to our donors, teamwork, the spirit of the participants and God’s providence.

Sister Kathleen Bryant RSC is a member of the USCSAHT Board of Directors and served as a member of the Planning Committee for the “Borders Are Not Barriers” meeting.