CLEVELAND — It's human trafficking awareness month; the criminal industry is one of the fastest-growing in the world.
Ohio currently ranks sixth in the nation for human trafficking with minors accounting for more than a quarter of reported cases.
Sex and labor trafficking are two of the most common and fast-growing types of human trafficking. People are forced into the two trades with little to no pay for someone else's financial gain.
Data from the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force show more than 1,300 victims were identified in statewide between 2014 and 2020. Many of the victims were children, those of color and those identifying as LGBTQ+.
“Many times, youth who are not accepted by their family or their social circle or their school community. If they are outcast, they're looking to someone else to meet those names for them and that's when predators with bad intentions can manipulate and take advantage of situations,” said Sondra Miller, President and CEO of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.
The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center is continuing to help end the vicious cycle. In 2021, it saw a 60% jump in calls from youth seeking help compared to 2020.
“Part of what we have to do is train those who are working with youth on how to talk the language, how to get comfortable with the subject,” Miller said.
The center was recently awarded more than $3.4 million through two state and two federal grants to expand services and programming centered around human trafficking, alongside a partnership with LGBT Center of Cleveland.
“I think that says something too about where we are as a society, where our government agencies are recognizing, Hey, this is a problem, and we're going to put some resources behind it,” Miller explained.
Other grant-funded projects include collaborating with the Ohio Department of Youth Services to identify and assist youth who have experienced trafficking, improving first responder and court responses through professional trainings and offering legal services to survivors.
“Empowering youth program providers, youth facilitators and those who really have the relationships and connection and trust with the youth is our best way to tackle that issue,” Miller said.
If you or someone you know is a victim of sex trafficking, you can call the National Hotline any time, any day at 888-373-7888. You can also text "help" or "info" to 233-733.
The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center also has a 24-7 drop-in system where survivors can walk in the door and immediately get support.