STRONGSVILLE, Ohio — Alicia Ley knows about the problem of human trafficking firsthand, she's a survivor and is now a member of the Northeast Ohio Collaborative to End Human Trafficking.
Ley was the keynote speaker at an April 6 forum put together by the Rotary Club of Strongsvilleat Strongsville Middle School called "Protecting your Kids from Sex Trafficking Predators." Ley warned the starting point for trafficking usually is within a relationship, whether it’s a family member, a romantic partner, or a relationship that happens online.
Ley said parents need to be aware of the warning signs a predator may be trying to work their way into the household, and some of the aggressive ways a human trafficker tries to coerce the vulnerable.
“It’s overwhelming for parents and there are a ton of resources and tools to help," Ley said. “It’s a daily activity to really keep track of who our kids are communicating to on social media.”
"These predators are initiating sexual acts via webcam, and again these traffickers can groom, recruit and really traffic individuals without ever meeting them in person, which is a scary thought.”
William Davis is a Strongsville father of two children who brought his entire family to the forum.
“They’re young and impressionable, and they need to know the signs and what could actually happen, and what to do if they’re faced with that situation," Davis said. “I know they’ve had a couple of incidents in Strongsville itself."
"It’s very crucial to get this information out there because as time evolves, the people who do this stuff evolve as well. So what happened five years ago is not happening today, it’s completely different.”
John Morgan with the Cuyahoga Regional Human Trafficking Task Force told News 5 that sadly human trafficking is up in northeast Ohio over the past couple of years.
“It’s getting worse, everybody thought it would slow down during COVID, but actually it’s gotten much worse,” Morgan said. "And coming out of COVID it still has not slowed down.”
"We’re finding more juveniles who are involved in trafficking, especially sex trafficking. In the last six months, we’ve identified and referred to service over 100 victims."
"People think that if you live in the suburbs, you might not deal with things you might see in the inner city. Think of all of the municipalities that have hotels in them, where you’re going to find a cluster of hotels, you’re going to find human trafficking.”
“When we recover the victims it’s just a small part of what has to happen, and the other part falls on our victim advocates or our agencies that will follow a victim long after a case is done."
“Places like the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking, the Renee Jones Empowerment Center, the Harriet Tubman Movement, and the Rape Crisis Centerare where you can find information and help."