Hidden in plain sight. That is the reality of the horrifying problem of human trafficking. No, this is not a made-up problem. And no, human trafficking will not go away unless every one of us keeps our eyes and ears open to the problem. With public awareness and caring, we all can make a difference.

A total of 13 Northeast Ohio business and three homes were raided by police on July 31 for prostitution and commercial sex-trafficking activies.

Officers from the Ohio Investigative Unit and the U.S. Secret Service spent hours collecting evidence that showed involvement in prostitution and illegal sex activities.

Never underestimate the deterrent value of such raids. We are grateful to law enforcement for its vigilance and for its continued push to eradicate these crimes.

A 2019 study from the University of Cincinnati identified 1,032 Ohio sex-trafficking victims between 2014 and 2016 and 4,209 more individuals at risk of being trafficked during the same period. The analysis is the first official compilation of known victims and aims to help state officials better understand the scope of the problem and how to combat it, according to one newspaper report in March.

The report found most of the 1,032 victims were young girls in Ohio’s urban centers. And:

• 86% of victims were minors.

• 58% were white, 35% were African American, and 6% were multi-racial.

• 80% were in urban counties.

Those at risk of sexual exploitation included chronic runaways, victims of child abuse, youth frequently truant from school, the homeless and drug users.

The 40-page report, Estimating the Prevalence of Human Trafficking, was funded with a $100,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s Office of Criminal Justice Services. The study’s findings are being considered a baseline for moving forward, according to its authors.

What can we do? If you suspect someone is a victim of trafficking, the National Human Trafficking Hotline (traffickingresourcecenter.org) is your best resource. Call the hotline toll-free at 1-888-373-7888. Hotline advocates are available 24/7 to take reports of potential human trafficking. Text the hotline at 233733. Chat with the Hotline at www.humantraffickinghotline.org/chat

Closer to home, contact your local police officials if you see something suspicious.

Let’s protect our most vulnerable. They need us.

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