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Sex trafficking expected at RNC convention

Posted: 11:13 PM, Apr 29, 2016
Updated: 2016-04-29 23:13:10-04

Both law enforcement and advocacy groups are predicting an increase in sex trafficking during Cleveland's Republican National Convention in July.

In Cleveland, the Renee Jones Empowerment Center and the Collaborative Initiative to End Human Trafficking are actively working to raise awareness of human trafficking in the weeks leading up to the convention.

"We know that it will occur," said founder Renee Jones. "There's no question in my mind."

And Collaborative Director Karen Walsh warned that trafficking, "is not a crime that happens only in the inner city--it can happen to almost any child who's vulnerable."

It happened to "Rachelle" when she was just 16 years old.

A teenager who played in the high school band with loving parents, "Rachelle" trusted a man she knew and thought was simply being nice.

Instead, he threatened to harm her family if she tried to leave.

"The way he would beat me--I really took that to heart," said "Rachelle. "I really thought he was going to hurt my mother and father."

Fear is one way traffickers control their victims--drugs is another.

Jeremy Mack is serving a life prison sentence for trafficking four teenage girls in Elyria.

Federal Prosecutor Bridget Brennan said one of the girl's mothers actually drove by the home where her daughter was being held during a desperate search for her daughter.

"Mack promptly pulled her back into the house, struck her in the face--punched her in the face--and told her she wasn't allowed to leave," said Brennan.

The U.S. Department of Justice reported human trafficking worldwide, including sex trafficking and forced labor, has grown to become the second largest criminal enterprise behind the illegal drug trade--a $32 billion a year industry.

Federal Prosecutor Carole Skutnik said, "Absolutely there's been an increase--I think as people learn they can make money, serious money, off selling other people for sex."

Last October, The Federal Bureau of Investigation concluded a nationwide undercover sweep called "Operation Cross Country" that resulted in 149 victims being recovered and 153 alleged traffickers.

Department of State: Trafficking in Persons Report - July 2015

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine created Ohio's Human Trafficking Commission and predicted, "Anytime you have a large number of people converging on one city--there's going to be human trafficking."

In its annual report, the commission found there were 104 arrests and 33 convictions for human trafficking in 2015.

In addition, federal prosecutors have indicted at least 50 defendants in the Northern District of Ohio for human trafficking offenses since 2010.

Another advocacy group, Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution, routinely visited local motels to educate front desk clerks and employees how to recognize potential trafficking victims.

S.O.A.P volunteers, many of them from the Church of the Holy Angels in Chagrin Falls, handed out photos of missing teens as well as small bars of soap with a national trafficking hotline number.

The group's founder, Therese Flores, was once herself a trafficking victim and was auctioned off at Detroit motel.

The group now is spreading its message across the country to educate about the explosion in human trafficking.