Identifying & Responding to Trafficked Youth in Ohio
Estimated watch time: 58 mins
Available credits: none
This presentation is about human trafficking, how to identify human trafficking and how to work with victims. It also discusses the Ohio state Harbor Law and court programs, as well as the importance of trauma-informed practices and self-care in the field.
After watching this presentation, the viewer will be able:
- To define human trafficking under the law.
- To identify human trafficking and indicators.
- To apply trauma-informed practices to working with victims and self-care.
Welcome to the Community Education Series, hosted by The Recovery Village and Advanced Recovery Systems.
I’m Megan with The Recovery Village Columbus. I’m sure many of you are familiar with what we do with helping people with substance abuse and co-occurring mental health on an inpatient and outpatient level. We love to get connected with experts and different types of fields and expertise, and I met Lauren — well, I guess I called Lauren first — but basically, we’re all about collaborating with people in the community. Like, how can we help people in need, whether it’s substance abuse, mental health, other life issues, and get them to a place where they feel supported and loved and set up for success? So that was kinda my motivation in reaching out to Lauren.
Lo and behold, I didn’t know what all that entailed because after reading her bio and just getting to know her, the first thing she did when I had asked to kind of talk with her and meet with her is she’s like, “Well, I think there’s some more people that could benefit from this conversation.” So she immediately kind of thought, like, who we collaborate with and how we could share information to help the other roles. But that, off the bat, was amazing. So, her background in law, her experience working with people who are challenged with human trafficking, other trauma — I mean, her specialties are absolutely amazing, especially in the school sector as well.
Me trying to introduce her with her full bio, I would not do her justice. So I’m going to let her kind of talk about her background and just kind of dive deeper into that. But I did just want to make it clear that we are just so grateful to have her sharing today and providing this professional training, and also just her engagement in her efforts to help the community. I mean, it’s just so unmatched. So with that, anybody who has questions about The Recovery Village Columbus, you’re more than welcome to send me a quick chat and I can send you more, but really, I want the focus to be on what Lauren’s going to bring to the table today. With that, I’ll pass it along with her. Enjoy.
Thanks, Megan. Well, welcome everybody. I’m really glad to have you on today. I appreciate it. And I do believe this is being recorded, so hopefully we can send that out as a future reference for everybody. Megan, I appreciate the introduction. I will just go ahead and give a brief background and then today, really, I’m going to talk about human trafficking. Specifically, working with youth, although a lot of things that I’m going to say does translate into working with adults as well. Oftentimes, if somebody is a victim of human trafficking, the reality is they were likely trafficked when they were younger. So today, we’re going to talk about identifying, responding to trafficked youth. Again, specifically in Ohio, we will talk a little about the law. I love questions, so again, feel free to make sure you just type those into the chat box. If we see them, I can answer some of them as we go throughout. But also, we’ll make sure that we have time at the end for any questions.
So, just a little bit about myself: I have a background in education. I was actually a high school multi-intensive special education teacher before going to law school. And then after law school, I had a fellowship with the Ohio State University, and it was called the Greif Fellowship in Juvenile Human Trafficking. What I did is I basically worked with youth and the empowerment program. We’ll talk a little bit about that, which is in Franklin County, but I represented young people that were victims of human trafficking but also going through the court system, as well as all different types of legal matters that our youth would have.
That was really across the state of Ohio. Now, I’m still engaged in a lot of that work, mostly pro bono, but also work on a couple different committees throughout the state to do anti-trafficking. And then currently, I’ve kind of used my education background and I do work for a law firm, Albeit Weiker, LLP, and they’re just based out of Columbus. But again, we work across the state, so we really work with students and educators. Really, kind of any educational need that could come up: anything preschool, kindergarten, all the way through college PhD and kind of everything in between. So again, lots of different information on that and education, and areas that I’m really passionate about. But ultimately, again, our kids are just really, especially with COVID happening right now, there’s a lot of challenges in both the anti-trafficking world that we’re dealing with and then also the educational sphere as well. So again, feel free to ask questions. I’d love to have any additional questions that you guys have throughout the presentation.
Alright. So real quick, we’re gonna go through some myths and facts. I just kind of like to set the stage for what we’re going to talk about today and have people type into the chat box in a minute here, just to see what you think about a few things. Then throughout the presentation, we’ll really talk about just defining human trafficking. So again, federal versus state, Ohio. There are a few differences, identifying human trafficking. So really, red flags and indicators. What can you be looking for? We’ll talk about some risk factors for youth and then also some screening tools, and I can actually send some handouts after the presentation as well that Megan and everybody can send out. Then we’re gonna talk about responding to human trafficking. So, what’s a trauma-informed conversation look like? I do include a little piece on report writing.
So depending on our group here, if you guys want to share out in the chat box and just kind of say who you are and what you do, that’ll help me kind of just know who’s on today. We’ll talk about engaging youth on the topic of human trafficking. I think, especially in the past few years, there has been a lot more education and training for the community, but also for our youth. They’re starting to at least know the terms, which maybe 10 years ago, that just wasn’t the case. And then I will touch on Ohio’s Safe Harbor Law, which is the law that says we really need to be treating victims as victims, not criminals; that are victims of human trafficking, and then some resources. I’ll wrap up with some case studies, and I love to touch on self-care since whatever your reasoning for being on today, this is a tough topic. Working, just in general, anytime you have a service type of job, you need to definitely practice self-care. And then we will make sure we have time for questions and a wrap-up.
Alright. So first, just myths and facts. I’m going to click on a few of these, if you guys want to kind of type into the box and let me know what you think. No. 1: Human trafficking is always a violent crime perpetrated by strangers. What do you think? Is that a myth or a fact? I’ll give everybody a minute here to kind of type in the box. See what you think. So, yup, that’s a myth, right? That’s something I think, a lot of times, the news and the media portray human trafficking as this kidnapping-type situation, and that does happen, right? That is a real thing that happens on occasion; it is real. But oftentimes, really, the people that are trafficking kids and/or adults, they’re people that are not strangers. They know these kids. Whether it’s maybe a family member, we see that sometimes, uncles, sometimes even parents. We also see maybe it’s a boyfriend that has been in and out of the house or something like that, or a friend of the family or a friend of a friend.
No. 2, you guys want to type in: Only women and girls can be victims or survivors of sex trafficking. What do you think? Is that a myth or a fact? That’s probably a pretty easy one. So, right, that’s a myth. Although in my presentation today (and I’ve got a note on this in a few slides) I do usually talk about women and girls only because that is typically what we’re seeing in the courts, for example. And that’s really more of an identification issue, so it’s not that men and boys aren’t trafficked; they absolutely are. We’ll talk a little bit more about that and then our LGBTQ community. It’s just that in terms of how we identify, and probably some societal pressures and things like that. Oftentimes, we hear about girls and women, but men and boys are being trafficked too. I will differentiate. So, human trafficking: when we’re talking about human trafficking, we’re really talking about two things, which is sex trafficking and labor trafficking. I’ll go a little bit more into that in a few minutes,
No. 3, myth or fact: Human trafficking does not have to involve moving, traveling or transporting a person across state or national borders. What do you think? Myth or fact? I definitely wrote that one so that would be a fact, right? So the reality is right. Again, you do not have to actually have somebody go across state lines for it to be considered human trafficking, and that is a bit of a change in how we view it, which is a good thing. Again, we’ll talk a little bit more later on about why you hear a lot that Ohio’s a hotbed for human trafficking and kind of the reasons behind that and some of the statistics.
No. 4: If a trafficked person consented initially, then it cannot be human trafficking. What do you think? Myth or fact? Alright, I’m seeing some things come in. Absolutely. Everybody’s got it right. That’s a myth. So again, that piece of consent, we try to talk with kids about that too. The age of consent in Ohio is actually 16, which is different from the federal law, which is 18. Ohio is one of the few holdout states, and we are working on some legislation right now to actually change that so that the age of consent in Ohio is 18. That we’re actually treating kids that would be 15 and 364 days, right now, they would get treated differently under the law than a child who’s 16, even though the federal law is actually 18.
No. 5, last one: People being trafficked are not always physically unable to leave their situations or locked in/held against their will. What do you think you see? There used to be kind of some campaigns out there where there were chains and things like that. And again, that happens on occasion. But yep, I think everybody has that right. Fact. That’s usually not what we’re seeing. There’s something called grooming and there’s a lot of abuse that is involved in human trafficking, so sometimes, unfortunately, our kids will tell me that they’ve had guns held to their head. So there’s a lot of physical violence that goes into human trafficking. Sometimes, it looks like domestic violence situations, but it’s not always somebody who’s physically locked up or chained or something like that.
So I think I’d mentioned this but really quick. I like to have a slide on this. So, pronouns used during this presentation: again, I typically am using she, he and they. Just kind of based on our cases, but most identified cases in Ohio have involved female victims. Again, it’s not that boys and men aren’t trafficked. It’s just that’s not who we’re really seeing come into the courts. But anybody can be a victim of human trafficking. My caseload looked like everything. Maybe a third were kids coming into this country, being trafficked into the United States. So from international, a third were minority and a third were caucasian. It really just runs the gamut and, again, socioeconomic status. It can look like anything.
Real quick note on self-care. This is a difficult topic in conversation, so I’d just like to acknowledge that I appreciate everybody being here to learn more about it. But if you do need a break, please allow yourself to take the space and break that you need, since I do understand that this can be a difficult topic.
So, defining human trafficking. Human trafficking as a form of modern-day slavery. You might’ve heard that, but basically where people are profiting, right? They’re profiting from the control and exploitation of others. There’s a value, something of value; it can be referred to as compelled service or servitude of others for profit, and in the U.S., it has to actually include three things under the law. It’s to include something called force, fraud or coercion. We’ll talk about that. So, the legal definition of trafficking, and this is defined in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. Again, just even in my lifetime, human trafficking has really become a topic of conversation and something that legislators are discussing and the community is really getting behind. Some of these laws aren’t actually that old. Ohio really didn’t put things into place until about 2012 in terms of the law. So again, relatively new compared to a lot of other things we’re seeing in the legal arena.
But the legal definition of severe forms of trafficking in persons includes sex trafficking. That’s where a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age. So again, under the federal law, it’s 18. The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of that force, fraud or coercion for the purposes of subjection to involuntary servitude, all of those things. Again, we have the difference between sex trafficking and then that labor trafficking, but really, like I said, the 2000s are kind of when all these laws started to take effect. Even then, a lot has changed since then in terms of how we view and treat victims of human trafficking.
So, how trafficking occurs. There’s kind of these three things: an action, a means and a purpose. These are the three buckets we kind of talk about. The action would be that person, again, was recruited, harbored, transported, solicited, all of those different things. That would be more along sex trafficking. Then, the means is that force, fraud or coercion. I have a note here just to make sure everyone understands that minors induced into commercial sex are human trafficking victims, regardless of that force, fraud or coercion, if it’s present. If you’re a kid, you don’t have to prove that force, fraud or coercion under the federal law — anybody under 18. In Ohio, because our age of consent is 16, there is a difference.
If I were representing somebody in court, a young person (if they were that 16- or 17-year-old) I would have to basically argue a few different things and have to show that force, fraud or coercion versus a child who would be 14 or 15. And I will say, even just in the time that I’ve been doing this work the past few years, my caseload has changed and what we’re seeing has changed. It used to be our clients were 15, 16, 17, and now we’re seeing clients as young as, like, 11 and 12. It is something that we’re seeing. Kids are being abused and being put into these trafficking situations a lot younger. So again, the purpose would be for that commercial sex exploitation or that forced labor.
So, means. When we’re talking about examples in definition of the means here, it could be a physical assault, sexual assault, confinement. There’s a lot of different ways people are forced into this. Fraud: we see things like some type of deception, right? So oftentimes, it might be something with a visa. From somebody who has a visa from another country, their passport is taken, something like that. They come to this country thinking that they have a job, and then that’s not what it turns out to be. It ends up being this trafficking situation, and it’s really challenging to get out of that. And then coercion, of course: any type of threats of serious harm against any person, any type of abuse, threatened abuse. So what we’re seeing with our kids sometimes too are these traffickers will threaten that person as well, but they’ll know everything about this child by the time they actually approach a child. And that’s because of the digital footprint these days. So they might know that this 16-year-old has two younger siblings, and they might kind of use that as well. “If you don’t do this for me, I’m gonna go after your eight-year-old sibling.” Again, a lot of violence and threats used.
When we talk about identifying human trafficking, I do want to point out that in Ohio, I’ve heard things like, “Overall Ohio, they’re the fourth or top 10 most-trafficked state in the U.S.,” and those numbers are a little bit skewed. The reality is that Ohio has, in 2016 — this is a little bit old, but — they had the fourth-highest call bomb in all the 50 states and D.C. to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. So that’s a little bit hard to parse out because it means that we’re getting a lot of calls to the hotline, which is good, and I will make sure I include the hotline number for everybody since I love for people to put the hotline number in their phone. So if you do encounter a situation where you think this might be a trafficking situation or you see a lot of red flags, I encourage people to make that call to the hotline. Then it’ll go to the right people to follow up with that person and provide resources and services or document, potentially criminally if the task person needs to get involved too. So again, it’s a little bit hard to say because other states might not be doing as good of a job in actually getting the information out there as to how to call the hotline and just the resources that they have. So it’s a little bit skewed, but yes, Ohio human trafficking happens everywhere is what I tell people.
The reason that Ohio kind of is a prime state for it includes the geography. So the fact is that, one: You can get in and out of Ohio (it doesn’t matter where you’re at in the state) you can pretty much get in and out of the state within a couple hours. Maybe two hours, three hours, depending on where you’re at. So it is a lot easier to, if you’re being chased by the police, for example, actually cross state borders pretty quickly. Also, our highway system in Ohio. We have a vast highway system and everything kind of. We’re called the heart of it all, and that does add to it in terms of highway system, geography, navigating. And then you can also get to Canada, so you can get to Canada really quickly in a day from Ohio, which isn’t necessarily true. You can actually get out of the country. Of course, things have changed a bit with COVID and then also, Ohio has a lot of big sporting events and they host a lot of big events like that. So you’ve probably heard that the Arnold Sports Classic is maybe the second or one of the most trafficked events in the United States, pretty much behind the Super Bowl. So there’s a lot of people actually who bring people into the state during that weekend to be trafficked.
I’m going to talk a little about red flags for trafficking, just because as community members — maybe in your work when you’re working with people — here’s what you can be looking for. So each case, again, is different, and never have I had a kid raise their hand and say, “I’m a victim of human trafficking.” Oftentimes, they have been so victimized and abused throughout their life that they don’t view themselves as victims. Sometimes their trafficker, for example, might be considered their boyfriend, and they love that person even though that person does horrible things to them. Eventually, after time and educating them and having lots of therapy and a lot of different resources put in place, then they recognize, “Oh wow, I’m a victim. What happened to me was horrible, and it is not okay and is illegal under the law.”
So, some behavioral things you can look at: truancy or withdrawn demeanor. Oftentimes our kids, whether they’re going through court or not for truancy, they end up missing school. But some kids are in school that are being trafficked. Of course, our goal is to get kids back into school. Mental health indicators can be depression, anxiety. You might see kids that are malnourished or have injuries; kind of odd injuries going on, unexplained possessions or more or less money than expected. So sometimes, you know, getting your nails done every week, all kinds of new clothes, fancy purses that you just, you’d be kind of wondering how that child got those things. And it could be the opposite, though: maybe not as much money. Some of the kids that we work with, we call it survival sex, right? Maybe they are in a situation at home where mom and dad might not be present or they’re struggling with addiction or other things going on and there’s a younger sibling, so maybe the 14-year-old girl ends up posting herself on one of those websites. I’m sure people have all heard about backpage.com, which has been taken down. Although trafficking happens on the dark web and on all kinds of other online platforms regardless, kind of that backpage has gone.
So, it’s survival sex. This child, maybe they need to put food on the table for their sibling, or they need to pay for their uniform for school or something like that. So it’s not necessarily, it’s definitely not something that they would really be choosing to do is my point. I’ve got an image here of a tattoo, and sometimes, our youth will actually have kind of markings or tattoos, and we’ve seen them kind of anywhere. Sometimes, we’ve had some kids with them on their knuckles, their fingers. It might say “King” or their trafficker’s name.
Other times, neck, I’ve even seen face, hips, different things like that kind of as a marker or a stamp. There are actually really amazing places, tattoo parlors that’ll do basically free cover-ups of those tattoos for victims of human trafficking. My point is that there are a lot of red flags. We’ll talk more about some risk factors too, more specifics, but you have to consider the whole child, the whole person, and part of our job is to engage with these kids or people.
So, high-risk youth: who are we really talking about here? The highest-risk youth would be ones that are involved with child protection. Maybe the juvenile court system. They might have some type of substance use disorder. Again, our homeless youth, that’s a big high-risk population for human trafficking. They don’t have anywhere safe to go. They don’t have safe adults in their life; again, I mentioned survival sex. Our non-citizen or foreign-born youth, youth that of course have family members involved in the commercial sex trade. Sometimes, it ends up being kind of a cycle. Youth with friends, right? There’s peer pressure in some of this, and recruitment is a very real thing. So you actually see — some obviously adults — you might see a male trafficker who then has some older females that help recruit. And then you also might see youth recruiting each other into trafficking situations. Youth that have run away more than once, we see that a lot. A youth with a boyfriend. Typically, we see four more years older. Again, I say boyfriend here, it’s not that women aren’t traffickers. They are involved, but more typically, it would be a male or a boyfriend. Again, foreign-born: maybe they had a relative that was previously trafficked, and then some type of gang membership or affiliation.
Some of our moderate-risk youth that are still at risk would be our LGBTQ youth, our runaway youth, any youth that have experienced domestic violence, with mental health diagnosis; we see a lot of that. Again, foreign-born, involved with negative, antisocial peers; maybe they’re involved in child protection in the past, and homelessness. And then also, our kids with disabilities sometimes are at a higher rate of being trafficked. Any vulnerable population, really, is what it boils down to. So, lower-risk youth would be like low-income youth of color, poor school performance, struggling in school, maybe family members are struggling with some type of mental health or substance use disorder, and potential parents are in some type of domestic violence relationship. So again, we’re really talking about vulnerabilities that are kind of factors in all of this.
Here’s just some statistics, I guess, for everybody. So, a mental health diagnosis (this is before they’re trafficked in Ohio). Thirty percent of children in Ohio had major depression, 36% of adult victims of human trafficking had some type of mental health diagnosis. I was actually on a committee call a week or two ago, and we were discussing this since Ohio has a grant to actually be able to open some different clinics to work with adults with disabilities that are victims of human trafficking, which is fabulous. So we actually think those numbers would be lower than what they actually are; again, prior victimization and challenges. A lot of the kids that I work with, maybe they got into a trafficking situation when they were 13, 14, 15, but the reality is they had some type of prior victimization or abuse when they were, some of them four or five or six. Maybe some type of sexual abuse by a family member: an uncle, a grandfather, maybe boyfriend or family friends, something like that. But about 57% of Ohio children were raped prior to recruitment into human trafficking. So that’s really, kind of in my mind, the one main trigger that ends up creating these vulnerabilities in these kids.
And then 63% of children ran away at least once before being trafficked. I’ve heard different statistics out there, but I think that’s probably one that most stands out. Within about 48 hours, and I’ve heard anywhere between 24 and 72 hours. It’s something insane, saying like 80% of kids that run away — within basically a day or two, they will be approached by someone. That’s a pretty terrifying statistic, and you kind of ask, “How does that happen?” Well, these traffickers are smart, so they might see a kid not in school, right? And with COVID, again, it means the stay-at-home orders. These youth that are being trafficked are now, some of them are staying at home with their traffickers. Where before, school was their outlet and was their safe space and the one place that they did get to go, and maybe they weren’t going all the time, but at least it was a safe place. Somebody asked in the chat, “Are the slides available?” Absolutely. We can make those available after the presentation for sure.
So again, all these vulnerabilities are adding up to kids running away. I had one client: she was being abused by her mom’s boyfriend who ended up becoming stepdad. She told her mom and her mom unfortunately didn’t believe her for quite some time. The girl finally, one day, ran away because she didn’t want to be abused by stepdad anymore, and the mom felt horrible. Couldn’t find her daughter, and her daughter ended up in a situation of human trafficking, and a couple of weeks went by and the mom found actually a whole slew of videos that the stepdad had recorded of him doing things to this child. So at that point, I mean, we were really working hard to get mom and the daughter safe, obviously, and then also into counseling and a lot of different resources to be able to help them.
So talking about our LGBTQ youth vulnerability, these youth are way more likely to experience homelessness than their peers. There’s a lot of factors that have to do with that, but again — why they end up being a group that is trafficked kind of at a higher rate. Sometimes, it could be family conflict over sexual orientation or gender identity. Half of teens experience a negative reaction from parents when coming out. Up to about 25%, the statistics say, are thrown out of their homes. So they’re not in a safe environment, and then sometimes, we have service providers and other people out there that are working with these youth that might not be inclusive. So these kids don’t feel like they really have anywhere else to go.
So, grooming. I’m going to talk a little bit about grooming and kind of how this happens. There are six stages of grooming, and grooming is, really, it’s kind of the precursor phase. Sexual grooming or grooming is the process in which a predator or trafficker gradually gains the person’s trust with the intent to exploit them. Again, here I’m really talking about a child or a teen or some type of vulnerable adult. I mentioned that oftentimes, these adults that you might hear about or see were children, realistically, when they were trafficked the first time. But the purpose of grooming is really to manipulate the person into becoming a cooperative participant in this abuse and exploitation. Again, this is going to reduce the likelihood of a disclosure and increase the likelihood that the victim will become attached and repeatedly returned to this trafficker. So these stages of grooming are trafficking of victim, gaining trust and information, filling a need, then isolating them. Then the abuse begins and then they use that abuse to maintain control.
Again, this happens over a period of time, it doesn’t happen overnight. What I tell people is what I’ve seen is these traffickers — again, they’re smart, they’re manipulative, they have books out there. In a few slides, I’ll show a quote from one of them, and they have different lingo and emojis they use and all the different things that are constantly changing too. It’s really challenging for law enforcement to kind of keep up with that, but they are really smart. They know how to basically do things for these kids and these people that, I say, a safe adult would do. So for my kids, they might actually help one of my kids apply for a job or get a driver’s license. They’re doing things that a safe adult in that child’s life should have done for that child, but they didn’t.
Then it turns to the abuse again: guns, physical abuse, sexual abuse, all of those things, emotional abuse. There’s actually something called trauma bonding that’ll happen. So, the trauma bonding. Trauma bonding is a real thing that happens, and what I’ve heard survivors explain to me is, basically, that what happens is when the trafficker is abusing this person, they’re also then the same person to turn around and be there after the abuse. There’s actually a chemical change in the brain that happens and in the body that occurs. So now this person, because of the trauma that happened, they’re actually bonded to this trafficker. Even though they know what the trafficker is doing is horrible, they don’t want to be doing this. It’s not their choice; they’re actually chemically bonded.
Again, a survivor once told me that the way she explains it — and she’s been a survivor for many years out of her trafficking situation and speaks all around — she says she hates him, right? What he did to her was horrible, and she wants nothing to do with him. But she said if he were to walk in the door, her mind would be telling her, “Oh my gosh, no. Stay away.” All these things, protective factors, but her body, she goes, “I would just go to him. I physically would be drawn to him.” So that’s kind of the best way I can explain that trauma bonding. There actually is like a physiological change in the brain and in the body.
Real quick, I just have four things up here, but it is a very real thing that happens. Again, abusive partners deliberately cultivate trauma bonding. They do this on purpose so that this person can’t leave. The trauma bond maintains the abusive status quo. The good news is it is breakable, but it is very challenging. What I’ve seen in terms of — it’s very challenging, also, to actually prosecute people and charge them with human trafficking. What I’ll see is usually, if somebody does get charged, the reality is most of the evidence — not that we don’t have discovery and evidence and things like that — but oftentimes, the victim has to actually be confronted by the trafficker, right? So the trafficker’s in court, the victim’s 10 feet away on the stand, and they have to testify that this happened to them. That’s pretty horrific, especially if you’re 12, 13, 14 years old.
What we’ll see sometimes is the trafficker ends up taking a plea deal. And what I’ve seen is usually, that happens when it’s kind of two things. Typically, they will not take a plea deal up until like the day of trial when they know that person, that victim, is actually going to be there. And they do all types of things, even though they’re in prison. They do all types of things to scare that person. They might have friends or family members send them letters or drive by. They find the group homes these kids are in. It’s incredible. I mean, they are able. I’ll have kids that get out of trafficking situations and they’re doing great, and then they turn 18 and they’re kind of booted out of the foster care system. Since a lot of our youth are in the foster care system — like, the day they turn 18, their trafficker contacts them from jail. I mean, it’s incredible how they can find them. But again, to say social media — all those different things — our digital footprint is so extensive that these traffickers know by the time they approach these kids, they know all about them. They know their favorite music, they know where they’d like to buy clothes, they know what their family’s situation is, where they’re going to school or where they should be going to school, all those things. So maybe, this boyfriend has the same likes as this child, even though it’s only because they’ve done their research.
Here’s a quick quote. Basically, this is actually from “The Pimp Game.” It’s kind of from a — there’s, like I said, actually handbooks out there about trafficking that these chapters pass around. “You’ll start to dress her, think for her, own her. If you and your victim are sexually active, slow it down. After sex, take her shopping for one item. Hair and/or nails is fine. She’ll develop a feeling of accomplishment. The shopping, after a month, will be replaced with cash. The lovemaking turns into raw sex. She’ll start to crave the intimacy, be willing to get back into your good graces. After you’ve broken her spirit, she has no sense of self-value. Now, pimp, put a price tag on the item you’ve manufactured.” That’s pretty horrific. And the reality, though, is why is trafficking such a big issue? Well, drugs you can only sell one time, but a human you can sell — I mean, I’ve heard anywhere from 20 to 40-plus times a night, so it is a commodity in that sense to these traffickers.
So, how do we respond to human trafficking? What is our responsibility here? So first, just what our victims need. These people need safety, basic needs, needs to be met for them. Oftentimes, medical and mental health needs a trauma-informed response. That’s something we talk about all the time in the field. We really want to do our best. Obviously, that’s always changing and we’re always trying to get better, but really trying to do that strength-based approach. Even the most challenging kids that I work with, and they’re tough kids, I mean, they’re tough kids. They’ve been through a lot and they’re very tough, but they have strengths. They have talents. They have things and wishes and hopes and dreams, all of those things.
I think the most interesting thing is when a kid will stand up in court or talk to me, and then they’ll kind of say, “Well, when I was a little kid, I wanted to be a veterinarian.” They had all those same hopes and dreams when they were little too. So, really focusing on that strength-based approach, even though we know that getting out of a trafficking situation is really challenging. And oftentimes, we might make one or two steps forward and then three back and then forward. Sometimes, my kids, they do go back to their traffickers, and that’s really hard when you have this whole multidisciplinary team working really hard. But again, that trauma bonding is real, and it takes a lot of time and therapy and all of these things to break that bond. So again, gender-responsive care and then culturally and linguistically responsive care.
So, things that we can do: building rapport, active listening, empathy, being nonjudgmental, I mean, all those things. Some of the stuff that you hear is tough; it’s tough to read police reports, it’s tough to hear these things. But again, being open, mirroring terms sometimes used by the child and then, of course, using interpreters if necessary, all those things just to build that relationship with that child because, again, they haven’t had a lot of safe adults in their life. So. trauma-informed conversations: how can we actually have a conversation around this and incorporate these principles into our aspect of daily practice? What we’re talking about here is safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment. Those are kind of the things that are the cornerstones of trauma-informed conversations. The main thing that I really think about is, again, nobody’s going to wave their hand and say, “I’m a victim of human trafficking.” That just doesn’t happen. Oftentimes, it’s when I get kids — for example, in the court, we have this Empowerment Court program, and the way that the kids will actually need an attorney is because they pick up some type of charge.
For example, maybe the trafficker’s driving and their lights are out or something in the car, so they get pulled over. They have a gun and drugs in the car. They slip the gun under the passenger seat with my 13-year-old sitting there and they tuck the drugs into her bra strap. The police pull them over, the trafficker goes on his way, and my kid gets arrested and gets put in the juvenile detention center and then I get a phone call. So oftentimes, the way that we’re identifying these kids: there are screening tools and different things, but oftentimes, it’s really just people in the community. Maybe it’s an attorney, a judge, a prosecutor, a social worker, somebody who’s working with this child, a teacher, I’ve had teachers contact me. Somebody takes a second and says, “You know what? That 13-year-old doesn’t know how to use a gun. There’s more to the story.” Then under the law, we’re going to treat them like a victim.
In court, the goal is we put this wraparound team, wraparound services, with them. The idea is that we don’t want them to plead one way or another on the charges. We put them in advance, so we basically set them aside. We say we’re not going to deal with the charges right now. We’re just going to set them aside because this person, whatever they did — again, this might be truancy all the way to a first-degree felony — it doesn’t matter. It could be a misdemeanor, felony charge, but the idea is that this person, whatever that charge was, is connected to their trafficking. We don’t want to treat them as a criminal under the law. We want to treat them as a victim, provide them with services, and if they can do what the court asks, then what we do is we dismiss, seal and expunge their case so it’s like it never happened.
When we work with people in this arena, oftentimes, I like to give choice. I think this is good with anybody, especially kids. There’s always choice and options. I’ve heard some of my friends who are social workers and are taking people (case management-type things) to appointments, for example. They say, “You know what? Sometimes, even just letting the client pick out the radio station gives them choice and control and power, which are things that they have not had.” Where you’re sitting, your physical space, always allowing that person to be closest to the door — so they have an out, right? There’s a lot of things we can do like that that can just really, really help. Considering verbal and nonverbal communication you’re using and then, again, just really fostering those positive experiences, since these kids have not had a lot of positive experiences and they’ve had a lot of adults fail them in their life.
My rule of thumb, and this is just in general, working with kids and as a teacher, I did the same thing, I don’t make promises to kids. I don’t use the word “promise” because I feel like the worst thing I can do is not be consistent. They just need a consistent, safe adult in their life, and if I promise something and then whatever happens — traffic or something — I don’t get to visit them at that time or I have to go the next day. I tell them, I explain to them, “I’m gonna visit you this week and my hope is to come on Thursday, but I don’t make promises.” When they ask me things, I’m going to say I’m gonna do my best and I’m gonna do my best to ask for that for you in court or whatever the case is, but I don’t make promises because I don’t want to break that promise, and then to rebuild that relationship would take a very long time with that person.
Alright. So, tips for trauma-informed report writing again, I include this just because I feel like we might have some people on that end up working with victims of trafficking. Whether it’s a court report or some other report for your agency or organization, I just say use correct terminology, avoid slang. For example, we might say “a minor involved in sex trafficking,” right? “A victim of human trafficking or sex trafficking.” We don’t say “child prostitute,” ‘cause that’s not a thing. If a child cannot consent to sex, there’s no such thing as a child prostitute. So again, you might hear the words John, date, trick, et cetera — those are kind of all slang terms for the people that are buying sex. We try not to use those terms, although we do, but in terms of formal report writing, we try to say “the purchaser of commercial sex” or something like that. Also, just remember, the people that you’re working with might hear or read this report. So oftentimes, I’m working with people on how you write a good report in court because that’s going to be on the record, and that might be there forever. You might say something or write something that is really going to impact that person later on that was not your intention, so just stick to the facts and just be cognizant that this might be something that they do here. So again, avoid blaming and really just taking a step back, rereading it and using a trauma-informed lens to view your report.
Real quick, I’m gonna touch on Safe Harbor. This is an Ohio statute for human trafficking. It was enacted in 2012 and, again, this is in lieu of conviction for minors and adults. It’s an intervention; it’s a diversion-type program in court. There are some specialty courts in the state of Ohio. We have CATCH Court for adults, and that’s in Franklin County. Then we basically have a very similar program called Empowerment Court in Franklin County for youth, and then Summit County has Restore Court. Ohio is really one of the only states. Other states are starting to kind of have these courts, but really, Ohio was kind of on the frontline of this. The goal is the record expungement, right? So all of this totally goes away. Slates are wiped clean; it’s like nothing ever happened. Victims can pursue damages, and there’s actually some committee work that I’m doing right now to kind of look at that and figure out what that looks like. I have never heard of a victim of human trafficking actually getting damages, but there are a few cases going in the courts right now. Statute of limitations is extended to 20 years. It provides a CCTV testimony option for victims under 16 during a preliminary hearing. Of course now, a lot of things are on Zoom in the courts anyway. Allows termination of parental rights, and it prohibits the disclosure of police reports involving minor victims.
So, Empowerment Court. I just want to touch on Empowerment Court real quick since that is the court that I used to work in in Franklin County. It’s court intervention when a youth is trafficked and charged with a complaint that’s a result of the trafficking. That could be a minor misdemeanor all the way to a first-degree felony, it doesn’t matter. It includes a Safe Harbor motion, so we basically use the law to say, “This child should be in this program.” Typically, it’s about nine to 12 months of programming, and usually how it works is every month, everybody comes to court. So, all the adults meet about an hour before court and talk through all the cases and then the kids actually come to court.
They have their own hearing with the judge; they have their attorney and their guardian ad litem, the prosecutor’s there, and their whole team is really there and it’s more of a check-in. It does look like court in the formal sense, but for the most part, the goal is that it’s a little bit more informal. It’s a check-in. It’s really seeing how you’re doing, what services can we provide for you and hopefully sharing some really positive news. Maybe they’re back in school, they’re going to prom, they got a job, all kinds of things like that. So, termination: if they have satisfactory compliance, the record is dismissed. The charges are dismissed and the record is sealed and expunged. So that’s fabulous. Expungement means it’s literally wiped clean — there’s no record of it. For whatever reason they don’t complete successfully, which is pretty rare, the complaint just gets bumped back into normal juvenile court like anything else.
Real quick, just some final takeaways on Safe Harbor. I don’t expect people to be an expert under the law, but my goal today is just that you have an idea that there is this law called Safe Harbor and people should be treated as victims under the law. So again, Safe Harbor can be granted on any charge, from a minor misdemeanor to a first-degree felony. The way felonies work: there’s an F1, the highest, then F2, F3, F4 and so on. Same thing with a misdemeanor: An M1 is the highest misdemeanor and then it goes lower from there. The statute does not require the individual to cooperate with law enforcement in order to participate with Safe Harbor, so you don’t have to necessarily testify against your trafficker, right? You don’t have to cooperate with the police to be treated as a victim of human trafficking.
I mentioned that it’s really, really hard to stand up against these traffickers. I’ve worked with therapy dogs, the Columbus Police Department, and the Sheriff’s Department now have therapy dogs, which is fabulous. We do everything we can if somebody does have to testify, but it is really, really, really challenging. So I’ve heard the statistic: maybe like 0.02% of people are actually convicted of human trafficking. It’s really hard to actually convict of that law because, again, typically with a trafficker, we don’t have the evidence. Or maybe they do have the evidence, but they actually take a plea deal for something else, not the charge of actual human trafficking. And then lastly, you don’t need a specialty docket. So I talked about Empowerment Court and CATCH Court, these specialist programs. But, courts around the United States don’t need to have a specialist program in order to use Safe Harbor. But they really should be familiar with the law and understand that this is something, again, that we’re treating people as victims, not criminals, under the law.
I have a couple of case studies here that I just want to kind of go through really quick. If we were meeting in person, we would kind of get into groups and talk about the different factors that we see and indicators and risk factors that we’ve discussed early in the presentation, but I just want to give you an idea of what this might look like. So, Jamil is 14 years old and lives with his mother in an apartment. Even though she works two jobs, his mother struggles to make ends meet. Jamil spends a lot of time at home alone, and the landlord started asking Jamil to ask him to help with some projects around the building to keep him busy. For the last three months, while they’re hanging out, the landlord makes Jamil perform oral sex and sometimes takes pictures of him during the sex acts. The landlord told Jamil and his mother that he would not evict them as long as he keeps hanging out with him.
So, feel free to type in, but we can just go through this real quick. Is this a case of human trafficking? Yes, right, absolutely. There’s something being exchanged here and all those force, fraud or coercion-type things. He’s saying that he’s not going to evict them as long as the child keeps doing this again. You see risk factors. What can we talk about here? There’s a bunch in here. Mom’s working two jobs, so he’s at home alone. We were not sure about income and different things like that and race in this case, but potentially, those are other factors. Just use your own as this example, but how would you engage with this youth? What could you do? What are some things that we could do for this youth?
Alright, so case study two. Ashley is 16 years old. She lives with her 84-year-old grandmother, who also takes care of her four younger siblings. The week before her first day of school, Ashley realizes they don’t have enough money to buy her uniform and supplies. One of her friends suggests she goes down to the local gas station and “stand on the corner” to make money. Within 15 minutes of standing on the corner, a man offers her $50 for an oral sex act. Ashley agrees because $50 will pay for her school uniform. Is this a case of human trafficking? What indicators are you seeing, and how would you engage this youth? These are all very, like, real situations that do happen. This case, the girl might not have a trafficker who is directly involved in her trafficking, but she’s got this friend kind of making a suggestion — this is that example of really that survival sex, right? Like, this is not a choice. She does not want to be doing this. She’s doing this to kind of pay the bills and do that.
So, case No. 3. Vanessa just turned 15 years old and is on the run from her foster home when she meets an older girl who says she can get her job as a stripper. The girl introduces Vanessa to her boyfriend, Ricky, who says he’ll operate as her manager. Vanessa gets a job at the club without even interviewing. She’s super excited, but at the end of the first night of dancing, Ricky tells her he needs all of her money to cover rent and her dance outfits. When she hands him $300, he says it’s not enough and tells her he needs her to work “overtime” in the back rooms. She feels like she does not have a choice if she wants a place to sleep at night, so she goes in the back and engages in sex acts to earn another $300 for Ricky. Similar questions, right? What is happening in this case, obviously, is human trafficking. Her age, right? There’s a lot of different things. He’s using that rent and dance outfits. We see that sometimes where, “Oh, hey, just go have sex with my friend one time; I need help to pay the rent.” That might be a boyfriend situation. And then pictures are taken and things like that and then it’s, “Oh, you’re every name in the book,” now kind of using this to hang over that person’s head.
I want to throw this out here: The National Human Trafficking Hotline. Here’s the number. If you guys have your cell phone or have a pen and paper, write down the number. It’s 24/7, it’s all confidential. Callers can remain anonymous if you want, and there are tele-interpretation services for over 200 languages. If you call this number because you have a suspicion or you need resources or anything like that, it will actually basically get transferred from D.C.. It’ll get transferred to your specific state and region. Here in Columbus, it would be the Salvation Army, and I believe they have two different kind of coordinators who actually have the phone on them 24/7 and will answer the phone and will meet victims where they’re at if they need something. They’ve got all the resources, housing — just different things that victims might need.
Real quick, I just want to throw out there that there is something called the Central Ohio Reach and Restore Coalition, CORRC. If you Google around the state of Ohio, you can see the different coalitions for each kind of region, but CORRC is our local region and it’s coordinated by the Salvation Army. There’s 100-plus organizations and over 300 individuals that all are working on anti-trafficking. All types of different organizations and work — social services, law enforcement, medical providers, mental health, faith community and more — all working to gather to combat human trafficking. We meet monthly, and then the committees also meet monthly right now by Zoom, but we would love to have additional members. Or, if you’re just interested in learning more, feel free to reach out. I’ve got the website at the bottom of this. And here’s kind of a snapshot of the different organizations — obviously, not all of them — that we work with with CORRC.
Real quick, final takeaways. First, remember that human trafficking involves the exploitation of a person for profit through means of force, fraud and coercion, and minors involved in commercial sex should always be considered victims of human trafficking. Even in Ohio (the age of consent is 16) we’re still treating kids under 18 absolutely as victims as well. No. 2, there are protections in the state and federal law for victims. And finally, our response to human trafficking really needs to evolve as our understanding of this issue evolves.
I just tossed this slide up here because I think self-care is really, really important. I say you have to make sure that in this work, you’re doing things to be able to be the best person that you can be so that you can work with your clients and patients and all of that and have the capacity. I’ve got three golden lab rescues at home. I’ve got a little one. We like hiking, enjoying, and the pictures on the right, sometimes, life actually looks like this, where I just organized that drawer and she pulled everything out, and then I look over and the puppy is pulling the Post-It notes down the hallway. But self-care is really important. Vicarious trauma — secondary trauma — is a real thing when you’re working with, obviously, victims of human trafficking. Really, any vulnerable population of victims. So, just like to throw that in there, and here’s my contact information. I will stay on; I’d love to answer some questions, so feel free to ask questions, and I’m always willing to answer any emails or anything like that too. You have my contact information right there. Thank you, everybody, for joining us today. I really, really appreciate it, and I hope you learned something.
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