GARFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio — According to data from the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, more than 1,300 victims were identified by officials between 2014 and 2020. Many of those victims were children.
A new partnership between the U.S. Marshals and a local nonprofit called Strong Hands United is working to provide kids with the tips they need to stay safe.
Director Curtis Freed can pinpoint the moment his life’s mission changed.
“I was in a place in the middle of the night and these guys were running in and out of the bathroom. And we went in there and it was a child. There were human trafficking a child. She must have been about 13, 14-years-old,” said Freed.
Freed said he couldn’t help that girl, but years later he told his pastor about it and they started Strong Hands United.
The nonprofit provides human trafficking and child safety awareness programs throughout Cuyahoga County.
“We got four target topics: they're going to be surrounding awareness, watch your friends, social media and video game caution, and identifying a potential victim in distress,” said Freed.
The organization teamed up with the U.S. Marshals Saturday for one of those programs at Freed’s church, Christian Kingdom Assembly Church in Garfield Heights.
This spring, they’re taking it to schools across Northeast Ohio.
“Start in East Cleveland, we’re going to branch out to Cleveland Heights and we're trying to just bring awareness of all the human trafficking and get safeguards so we can keep our children safe,” said Freed.
He said it's important to get the entire community involved in efforts like these to protect our most precious and most vulnerable.
“I feel like this is a village and any child and every child is our child. That's our slogan. So this child might not biologically be connected to me, related to me, but if the child is in the village, the child belongs to me too as well and it's my responsibility to help keep them safe,” said Freed.
More information about Strong Hands United can be found here.
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