Ohio a Major Hub for Interstate Trafficking

Louis Krauss, Staff Writer

The Human Trafficking Collective conducted two sessions this past week, in which the group’s Director Mindi Kuebler educated students and community members about the pervasiveness of human trafficking in Ohio. The state’s key location between major Midwest and East Coast cities makes Ohio a convenient place for traffickers to transfer victims.

According to Kuebler, 590 trafficking crisis calls were made to the national trafficking hotline in 2013, adding to a total of 2,502 since 2007.

The two most common types of trafficking are labor and sex trafficking. Baby traffick- ing, in which women are forced to bear children, has also become more prominent. Ac- cording to Kuebler, traffickers typically trap their victims under the guise of caring, often buying them food and providing shelter. After the trafficker establishes trust, they may force their workers to either labor on a farm or become prostitutes, depending on the type of trafficking.

Kuebler noted that Ohio’s increased awareness of trafficking can be attributed to the emergence of task forces. As the task forces publish information, the public can improve their knowledge of what human traffcking is and where it is occurring.

“Toledo, everyone’s heard they are one of the top cities in the country for trafficking,” Kuebler said. “That is in large part because they have a human trafficking task force. They were the first task force in the country. They know what they’re doing and they’re out there 24/7 looking for traffickers and pimps.”

Kuebler explained that the biggest challenge lies in finding and punishing the perpe- trators who own and manage workers. Since money is transferred between multiple par- ties, the actual pimps are rarely, if ever, caught in the act of trafficking.

“We know who the pimps are in Lorain County. The FBI knows who they are,” Kuebler said. “But they have to be caught in the act before they can get arrested.”

Victims are often incarcerated because it is much easier to identify the sex worker than the client.

“The johns will go to john school, where they talk about why they went out and pur- chased someone. They ask, ‘Will you ever do this again?’ They say no, and then they walk right out. Meanwhile the victims are in jail because officials claim it was their decision to become a prostitute,” Kuebler said.

State officials in Lorain County have identified several restaurants, including one in Oberlin, that use labor trafficking victims, as well as some from surrounding farms. Be- cause labor and sex trafficking are both very common globally, Kuebler added that traf- ficking is not a female-only issue.

College senior Alyssa Phelps, who co-founded Projet Unbound, an Oberlin student group that works to combat human trafficking, said that all forms of trafficking are prevalent.

“I think that’s the goal: to not have a bias,” Phelps said. “I think what you hear about more is sex trafficking, and what I know more about is sex trafficking. But that doesn’t mean that labor trafficking is any less important. And I think it’s important we don’t make this a gender issue.”

Project Unbound recently shifted its focus from international to Lorain County trafficking.

The group runs the Project Unbound Challenge, a seven-day event that raises mon- ey for the Human Trafficking Collaborative. The upcoming challenge begins on April 21 and concludes on April 27.

“We give $30 loans to any kind of team, and they have seven days to make money, and then all the profits go to the Human Trafficking Collaborative,” Phelps explained. Project Unbound co-founder and College senior Ty Diringer noted that since traf- ficking victims are less inclined to come forward, other national human rights issues

often draw more public attention. “I think there were a lot of other bigger issues,” Diringer said. “The war on drugs,

the war on poverty and all that. This is more hidden. There [are] not really a lot of advocates for victims of trafficking, or they remain silent.”

He said that victims often feel trapped in debt and have nowhere to go.

“A lot of it is coercion or reliance on drugs or a bond that you have to pay,” Diringer said. “And then there’s a fear of getting out. A lot of [them] don’t know where to go, because they’re homeless or immigrants a lot of the time. And if they do tell the police they’re seen as prostitutes, and they’re often sent back to Mexico or wherever they’re from. And then they’re in the same situation that forced them into trafficking in the first place.”

Kuebler emphasized that there is no “stereotypical” trafficker; trafficking happens everywhere, by all types of people. According to a report by the Ohio Attorney General website, there were 30 reported incidents of sex trafficking and 83 reported incidents of labor trafficking in the past year.