Off the Cuff: Mindi Kuebler, Activist

Melissa Harris, Editor-in-Chief


Mindi Kuebler is the director of the Human Trafficking Collaborative of Lorain County. Kuebler founded HTCLC in 2009 after working as a fo­rensic nurse, specializing as a sexual assault nurse examiner. She runs the HTCLC with her professional partners Shawn Cleveland and Kristi Miller. The HTCLC primarily does case management for human traffick­ing victims, working with the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Last year, the Hotline received 1,352 calls in Ohio, and 375 human trafficking cases were reported, ranking Ohio fourth in reported human trafficking cases behind California, Texas and Florida. Kuebler has been working with Oberlin’s Project Unbound in bringing awareness of local and na­tional human trafficking issues to campus.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Why is human trafficking in Ohio — more specifically Lorain County — such an issue?

Actually, it’s an issue everywhere. We talk about Ohio just because it’s so very easy to get in and out of the state of Ohio in a very short amount of time. The freeway system — I mean you can go from one end to the other with our freeway system and be out in a few hours, so that makes it very accessible for people to [reach] our borders to Cana­da. And our waterways can get people in and out of here with relatively no issue. And I would say that that’s the main reason for Ohio.

In Lorain County, we’re actually no different than any other area, and when you see higher incidents of stuff happening, it’s because we’re actually looking for people. We’re looking for victims, and we’re looking for the traffickers themselves. In Cleveland and in Toledo, we have a human-trafficking task force. That’s what their job is — to search for these people. In other areas, they don’t have task forces, so they’re using their law enforcement for everything, for homicide, for drugs, for all of that, whereas a human-trafficking task force is specific to human trafficking. That’s why numbers in various locations are higher within the state.

Can you explain what the Human Trafficking Collaborative of Lorain County does?

What happens is that we assist those who have been put in human trafficking situations. We get calls from the national hotline. We get calls from the juvenile court system. Just off the street, people will call who know our number, referrals, attorneys. We just get referrals. Our main referral is from the National Human Trafficking Hotline or the juvenile court system. What we do is that — say for the juvenile court system — we do case management with those kids, and we assist in making sure that they have mental health treatment, medical health treatment, and we assist in getting their schooling set up if they’re not in school. We just assist with making sure that all of their needs are met, so we’re a go-between. That’s what we do — it’s case manage­ment. I’m a nurse, and my partner in this is a social worker and so our roles within the Human Trafficking Collaborative are case manage­ment assisting those people. My capacity there is not a nurse but as director. I founded this in 2009, so I don’t work in the collaborative as a nurse; I work in case management because I’m a forensic nurse, and that’s how I started seeing things happening.

What made you interested in addressing human trafficking in the first place?

Well, as I said, I’m a sexual assault nurse examiner. In working at my job, I just started seeing things that I questioned — some odd situ­ations when someone would come in for a [Wide Range Intelligence Test] kit or listening to stories. And then I saw a presentation on it by Celia Williamson in 2008, and from that point on I kind of just jumped in with both feet, found out as much as I could and started everything in 2009 with Shawn Cleveland and Kristi Miller. We’ve just been doing it ever since. We have a Lorain County hotline number for people to call, and that’s how we get our national hotline calls as well. And we carry around on a daily basis, you know, and just assist.

Aside from the hotline, how can people protect themselves and others from human trafficking?

It’s awareness and knowing your surroundings. You know, when we talk about our kids, we can’t be with our kids 24/7, as much as we would love to. But if we put the awareness out to them and to people in our community to look out for things and to say something if some­thing looks odd, peculiar — that’s a way that we can protect. Human trafficking will never end. It will be with us forever because the de­mand for sex and labor is too high, but all we can do is put forth the awareness and try prevention strategies — that sort of thing.

Are there any particularly notable or difficult cases you’ve had that have really grounded you in your work?

Oh, absolutely. Yeah, definitely.

Could you share any stories, or no?

No, I don’t like to really get into the cases, because in our commu­nity in Lorain County, you have no idea who knows who. I’m not com­fortable with telling the stories. There’s one story that I tell often, but I found that in doing this over the years, everyone knows somebody.

I could tell you this one story for this one girl. She was 14 years old when I met her. She’s 21 years old now, and she went missing in [a nearby town], not far from her house. She was located a few weeks lat­er. But my issue with telling this story is that because it’s in [this nearby town] and because we are so close, as our community, I just don’t want people to say, “Oh, I know that story,” or, “Oh, I know that girl.”

Are there ways for Oberlin students to get involved with the Hu­man Trafficking Collaborative of Lorain County or in other anti-human trafficking efforts?

Project Unbound has done a great job in doing things on aware­ness and assisting us over the past few years. You guys have done some great fundraisers and awareness events, which have just been abso­lutely fantastic. Your awareness with the college community is great. I mean, what you guys are doing are just great work, and there’s not a whole lot of other campuses we can say that does this type of stuff that you guys do.

Is there a message you want students to know about the impor­tance of human trafficking and combating it?

I’ll say this again: We will never combat it. You know, a lot of things out there say, “Let’s stop human trafficking. Let’s do this, let’s do that.” What I think we need to start focusing on is awareness and preven­tion, and because, as I said, it will never end. It won’t. That demand for sex and labor is too high, OK? And it’s awareness and prevention. We need to make sure everyone in the community and at the College — especially at the College level — you guys need to be aware of your surroundings and be aware of the people you’re talking to online and out in the community. You just have to be aware of your surroundings and know that online, there are creepers out there, and they will do everything they can to know everything about you and lure you in. You just have to be careful of what you say, what you do, what information you give out. And it’s easy information. It’s general information that I think a lot of people take for granted [on] the internet. The internet is one of the largest avenues for human trafficking, whether it’s Craig­slist, Facebook, any of those, it’s a huge avenue. Just because someone pops up and talks to you, and you get to know them for a few weeks or whatever, doesn’t mean that that person on the other end is genuine, OK? Awareness and prevention.