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Cleveland Rape Crisis Center expands services for human trafficking survivors with East Side facility

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Posted at 6:23 PM, Apr 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-01 18:37:15-04

It's a $30 billion criminal enterprise that continues to expand its reach across Northeast Ohio — moms and dads, sons and daughters are caught in the cross-hairs.

Now, there's a new​ safe haven for survivors of human trafficking — a place where they can escape the grips of sexual violence and find a fresh start.

Angela Meriweather considers herself one of the lucky ones.

“I was kidnapped and held captive for 72 hours," Meriweather said.

While being transported to another state, she jumped out of a car, escaping those looking to use her for human trafficking.

“They’re getting paid to find you," said Meriweather.

For survivors like Meriweather, finding safety is just the first step in overcoming such an ordeal.

“They can come here and get the additional support to stay healthy and be able to deal with the trauma they’ve experienced," said Teresa Stafford with the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.

The center opened this new facility on the city's East Side specifically for survivors of human and labor trafficking.

“People can walk into our other agencies and get scheduled for an appointment, it's here in this facility survivors can just drop in at any point in time between the hours of 10 to 6 Monday through Friday without having an appointment," said Stafford.

They expect to be busy there.

Over the past four years, the center has answered more than 700 human trafficking hotline calls and provided help to more than 1,200 people.

"If they need to take a shower, wash their clothes, the survivors can access some of these other services that we have here that we don’t have at our other typical office spaces," said Stafford.

The drop-in facility's location at East 10459 E. Superior in Cleveland was by design.

“A lot of the survivors we’ve engaged with here at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center don’t live too far from this community, so we really wanted to be in the community where survivors can access our services without some of the barriers that might be present because of proximity," said Stafford.

For Angela Meriweather, the dedicated space is something she wishes she had access to shortly after her escape.

“Just being scared, just having nowhere else to go. Not thinking anyone understood me," said Meriweather.

While she's grateful for the drop-in center, Meriweather said more sites need to be equipped to handle the needs of human trafficking survivors.

“Where I could be understood, where someone knew I was 10 minutes from having a panic attack based on what I had been through," said Meriweather.

If you or someone you know is currently involved in human and labor trafficking or has survived and needs help, you can call the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center's 24-hour trafficking hotline at 216-619-6192.