EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio — As of June of this year, Ohio ranks fifth for human trafficking cases.
But the state's rate of human trafficking is the fourth highest at nearly four victims per 100,000 citizens.
That's significantly higher than the national average.
Those troubling statistics are among the reasons for a special event in East Cleveland to raise awareness of the problem.
“I’m a survivor of human trafficking,” said Rachel Socorro, a program coordinator for the Survivor Advisory Council Collaborative to End Human Trafficking.
At 19-years-old, Socorro says a close family sold her into a forced marriage.
“Due to some extreme vulnerabilities as a young teenage mother, I began to be groomed by a close family member and their trafficker,” said Socorro.
Living in isolation from family and friends, Socorro says she spent 15 long years in domestic servitude as a personal slave and got trafficked through labor.
But in 2017, she finally regained her freedom.
“I’m living proof that people get out,” said Socorro.
Now she uses her story to spread awareness to the community.
“We’re committed to changing the narrative. Human trafficking is not getting picked up in a white van and taken away to a third world country. It’s happening right here to our people, to our youth and we know we have to do it together,” said Socorro.
As the event’s organizer and an East Cleveland native, Curtis Freed says he wants his community to be informed to save people from experiencing what Socorro did just five years ago.
“Any child and every child is our child. Even though the child may not be biologically related to me, the child lives in a village in our community than I am responsible, the child belongs to me,” said Strongs Hand United Director and Founder, Curtis Freed.
Rallying advocates like Socorro and Warden Keith Folley from the Grafton Correctional Institution, the group hopes their team approach will be the step needed in the fight to end human trafficking.
“The work we do is so important because it happens here, and we can change it,” said Socorro.
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