CLEVELAND — January marks National Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
The observance helps raise awareness and educate the public about how to identify and prevent the crime.
Ohio ranks fifth in total human trafficking calls to the National Human Trafficking hotline, according to data.
In Cleveland, there is no official number of victims because many cases aren't reported due to fear and retaliation.
Officials say many of these victims suffer in silence and fear.
They're initially enticed by false promises of money and safety and then completely taken advantage of and held against their will.
The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center is hosting a free panel discussion Tuesday night to raise additional awareness and work to stop human trafficking cases nationwide.
"It's an issue that's not going away any time soon, and it's an issue, unfortunately, that sort of lives in the shadows," Kirsti Mouncey, President and CEO of Collaborative to End Human Trafficking said.
Kirsti Mouncey with the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking is working to shine a light on what she calls a problem of epic proportions.
The pandemic amplified human trafficking because so many people were online and at home.
Predators sought out more young victims on social media apps like Snapchat and Instagram.
And Mouncey says resources weren't as readily available to get help.
"So we have seen the number of online enticements of youth go up significantly. I think the FBI states about 22%," Mouncey said.
An active effort to restore safety to neighborhoods nationwide is underway.
The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center has taken notice.
The Human-Trafficking Drop-In Center is located in Glenville along Superior Avenue.
It's a safe space to get help, no matter how long ago a victim was hurt and regardless of the circumstances.
Counseling, case management and legal support are all readily available.
"It's important to just create space for them, because sometimes they just simply need a shower or something to needs somewhere to wash their clothes," Donisha Greene, Director of Community Engagement with the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center said.
Officials say not all human trafficking cases are the same, and it's often challenging to identify victims.
Look out for the following warning signs:
- The victim is afraid to make eye contact.
- They likely won't speak for themselves, and when they do it sounds scripted and rehearsed.
- The victim has visible marks from abuse or attempts to hide their face from the public.
Mouncey encourages everyone to sign up for a training class and do their part, as Ohio is a hub for human trafficking due to the easy access to airports and highways.
"We believe everyone has a role to play and we love to invite everyone in who's ready to take that next step," Mouncey said.
Officials are encouraging everyone to report human trafficking.
Approaching a victim on your own can be highly dangerous, so call the national human trafficking hotline: 1-883-373-7888.
The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center is hosting the virtual panel discussion called "Children at Risk for Trafficking" Tuesday evening.
It starts at 5:30 p.m. Registration is free.
To sign up and for more information on how to participate, click here: Human Trafficking Awareness Panel - CRCC (clevelandrapecrisis.org)
For additional resources, click here: Collaborative to End Human Trafficking (collabtoendht.org)