“I thought slavery was over, at least in the United States,” said Jeff Wilbarger, who was a speaker at the Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Presentation on Tuesday, Oct. 15 at Parkview Christian Church. “The truth is, it's a problem, and it's in our communities.”
Wilbarger is the founder and Executive Director of the Daughter Project, the only licensed group home for young sex trafficking survivors in Ohio. He described this particular issue of sex trafficking as the “modern-day Holocaust,” noting that 25 million people are victims of trafficking in the world today.
“I feel glad to be in a safer place like Findlay where something like this doesn't happen as often,” said senior Alexa Piccirillo.
Little did she know that she, and many other girls in her area, are still in danger of this industry despite being in a seemingly safe suburban environment.
“We are 45 miles from Toledo, Ohio, one of the largest originating cities for sex trafficking,” said Tom Blunk, the Executive Director of the Hancock County Center for Safe and Healthy Children.
What he was referring to is the fact that major routes like I-75 that run through Toledo make it easy for sex traffickers to distribute their victims.
He also noted that sex trafficking websites locally advertise to customers right in the Lima and Findlay areas. And when authorities pose as underage prostitutes in undercover sting operations, he described that the phone won't stop ringing until the advertisements are pulled off of the websites.
“I think anybody that has any compassion at all would not like this topic,” said Mr. Mike Daniels, teacher at VB. “It really hits home because I have a daughter and I teach her not to be naïve, but as a human being, I think this is a disgusting problem. I do the same thing with teaching girls' basketball by teaching the girls to have strength and not to be naïve, and to be safe.”
“We need to educate ourselves, and recognize that it's a problem in our community, and work together and combat it,” said Blunk.
Chosen, a twenty-minute documentary about sex trafficking victims was shown at the presentation that evening, and is an example of the push toward educating the public on this topic. The film features two teenagers, an 18-year-old and 13-year-old, both dragged into the life of the sex-trafficking industry in America.
The film draws similarities between the two victims. Both were lured by men in their mid-twenties who charmed their ways into the lives of the girls. These men, who were traffickers, acted in a kind manner, and posed as their boyfriends before luring them into full control by seizing their trust. Both victims were convinced into working at strip-clubs as a form of initiation before becoming prostitutes.
The documentary not only exposed the workings behind these crimes of exploitation, but also uncovered the key warning signs one should look for when suspecting an individual is a victim of trafficking:
“As adults, it's important to just look for signs. A lot of people are afraid to get involved,” said Daniels.
One of the greatest misconceptions about these trafficking victims is that they aren't victims at all. The state of Ohio's age of consent is 16, so many view individuals in the business over that age as those that consent to this lifestyle.
“But consenting is not compliance,” said Dr. Celia Williamson, professor of Social Work and Criminal Justice at the University of Toledo.
Traffickers use shaming and threats of violence against the victims themselves, and even family members, in order to have total control over their “product.” Other tactics include forced drug dependance, making it practically impossible to fulfill the urge to use drugs without persisting in the business.
Because of this, the average life expectancy of trafficked victims after entering the industry is 7 years. But those that survive beyond that still face devastating effects.
“You see the people that may not be dead, but are hollow,” said Williamson.
While this is essentially the business of prostitution, many fail to see the bigger picture.
“This is child rape for profit,” said Wilbarger, urging people to take action in fighting this crime.
How can people help extinguish the sex trafficking industry, and why isn't more being done to prevent or stop it?
“We have to stop glamorizing these lifestyles,” said Blunk, referring to society's fascination with terms like “pimp” and films such as Pretty Woman, when prostitution is taken lightly. The reality is that this is a heavy topic that needs serious attention.
A recent house bill that was passed by The Ohio House of Representatives is House Bill 130, which is aimed at reducing the demand for sex-trafficking by making stricter laws for the consumers of the industry. Anyone can write to legislators to ensure that bills like these continue to be passed.
Anyone can also get involved by helping organizations like The Daughter Project and Second Chance of Toledo, which are dedicated to raising awareness and providing shelter for trafficking victims.
When warning signs of trafficking are detected, the proper thing to do is to report it. The number to the National Human Trafficking Awareness Center is 1-888-373-7888, and all calls remain anonymous.
“You might be saving someone's life, or someone from a lifetime of trauma,” said Williamson.