New approach to fighting human trafficking on the rise in Ohio

CLEVELAND - After drugs, human trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise.

The numbers are more than quadrupling. In four years, the calls for human trafficking in Ohio have gone from 85 cases to 375.

To combat this billion dollar industry, local agencies are teaming up to cover more ground.

"[The calls] are all from right here, in our own backyards. From our greater Cleveland area and from every surrounding suburb," said Renee Jones from the Renee Jones Empowerment Center.

The Renee Jones Empowerment Center opened its doors in Cleveland 15 years ago. The building off W. 65th provides a refugee for victims and a resource for those on the front lines.

"No one agency can do it alone. The problem is too big, so we need to collaborate," Jones said.

Through the recently formed Cuyahoga County Regional Human Trafficking Taskforce, they've done just that. The collaborative effort brings together local and federal law enforcement, as well as social services groups.

"We get posters of kids that are missing and we take those out when we do outreach just in case we come across and see one of these missing kids," Jones said.

Jones says outreach is a crucial part of their fight against this dark enterprise, which is why they have expanded from the streets to strip clubs and truck stops as well.

"Because these are places where individuals can be trafficked and most generally are trafficked," Jones said.

Jones says the next step is to get into local prisons, so they can work with women who are about to be released and may have to return to that lifestyle.

Part of Jones' approach is to hand out gift bags to women she suspects are being trafficked or are susceptible to it. Inside are toiletries and a card with her number, letting them know she is thinking of them.

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