Human Trafficking and its impact on Latinos
By Ingrid Marie Rivera, La Prensa Correspondent
ELYRIA, OH, April 16, 2011: In Ohio, more than 1,800 young citizens and undocumented immigrants between the ages of 12 and 17 are trafficked for sex or cheap labor in a given year, and two thirds of that figure are Latinos, according to the Feb. 2010 study by the Ohio Trafficking in Persons Study Commission.
The issue was discovered three years ago, and it was not until Dec. of 2010 that the first law on human trafficking was passed in Ohio.
Toledo was ranked the 4th hub for human trafficking for sex in the nation, behind Miami, Portland, Ore., and Las Vegas when it comes to numbers of arrests, investigations, and rescues of children involved in sex trafficking, according to the study.
Former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray was the chairman for the Ohio Trafficking in Persons Study Commission. The study concluded one in three Ohio runaways gone for two weeks or longer is at risk of being trafficked for sex - the first study of its kind to quantify the statewide problem.
Celia Williamson, president and co-founder of the National Research Consortium on Commercial Sexual Exploitation, told several hundred people at the 16th annual Hispanic Leadership Conference at Lorain County Community College, April 16, 2011, workshop, that human trafficking does not just happen abroad; it is happening in our own backyard. Her speech was meant to be an eye-opener for the audience, providing shocking statistics and jaw-dropping facts.
Williamson, of Toledo, has dedicated over 18 years toward researching and finding ways to address the very real and growing problem of human trafficking. In fact, human trafficking, she said, is the second largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world.
Plus, the U.S. is the second largest purchaser of sexual services in the world, following Germany, Williamson said.
She said unlike what Hollywood movies may portray in films like “Taken” that state children are unsafe once they leave the country, Williamson said “in fact, they are safer leaving the country. The most dangerous place for you to be is on the streets of the United States.”
She helped support the Second Chance program, a program founded in 1993 in Toledo that works with victims of sex trafficking. She also helped to create the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition, and helped to secure a FBI Innocence Lost Task Force in Lucas County that rescues children from the sex trade in Toledo.
The statistics are staggering.
Williamson said victims may be U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents or foreign born, but that the largest group of trafficking victims in the United States is believed to be children.
On an international level, there are roughly between 600,000 to 800,000 victims trafficked across international borders every year and between 14,500 to 17,500 victims trafficked into the U.S. every year.
On a domestic level, roughly between 100,000 to 300,000 children are runaways in the U.S. and at risk of being trafficked, with 100,000 of them being trafficked into the sex trade each year in the U.S.
In Ohio, more than 3,000 children were at risk and more than 1,000 were child victims of sex trafficking last year.
Williamson said victims of human trafficking tend to experience helplessness, shame, denial and cultural shock. She said signs a person could be a victim include: difficulty communicating because of language or cultural barriers, being accompanied by a person who appears controlling, showing signs of physical abuse, and appearing submissive or fearful.
Williamson said victims often do not seek help because they distrust police, feel they carry a debt with their captor, or the victim has been given false promises by the captor.
She said to help a potential victim, gain that individual's trust and assure him or her “you will not be deported.”
Williamson said child sex trafficking victims may work in street-level prostitution, strip clubs, massage or escort services, convention centers, tourist destinations, apartment or truck stops.
Williamson stressed the need to educate children on these dangers because failing to do so makes them very vulnerable. Pimps or traffickers are keen at identifying vulnerable children, and after seducing them, use physical or psychological torture and control.
Williamson said that unlike what Hollywood movies may depict, the reality is different. Victims are often recruited in places believed to be safe like hang out spots, friends' and family houses', malls, court houses and juvenile centers, corner stores and schools.
She said that juvenile victims are often difficult to identify because of the prolonged physical and psychological abuse by their pimps but warns parents to pay attention to several warning signs.
Signs include if the child has hotel room keys; numerous school absences; false IDs; large amounts of cash, jewelry, or clothes; the need for recurrent STD or pregnancy tests; signs of physical abuse and branding like tattoos; and is either a runaway or homeless.
She said there is a wrong way to deal with child or juvenile victims of human trafficking – to punish them twice by calling them a child prostitute.
For more information on the Second Chance program, log onto http://www.secondchancetoledo.org/