The initiative, which is part of a collaboration with the Illinois, Indiana and Michigan state police and Truckers Against Trafficking, began Monday and will continue through Jan. 18.
The goal is to train and educate those who are in a position to see human trafficking taking place, such as commercial motor vehicle drivers, public transportation companies, rest area attendants and truck stop employees. The detail also explains who to contact when trafficking is suspected. By teaching these individuals the signs of human trafficking and how to report it, they can provide an additional layer of security on Ohio’s roads.
“What we all know is that Ohio is a prime place for human trafficking,” Lt. Robert Sellers said.
“When you think of the sate geographically, we’re 50 miles from the international boundaries, we have all these major roads ... Interstate 75, Interstate 71, lots of large truck stops, things like that. We’re in this area where a lot of human trafficking can take place and we all know from the past that it does take place. These are proactive measure to stop this before the next victim (becomes a victim).”
When asked what sort of numbers the patrol sees in cases that are related to sex trafficking, Sellers said “it’s hard to nail down” any certain number.
He said it’s well known that even the data that does exist isn’t entirely accurate because of how underreported it is.
“That’s always that caveat there that we look at,” he said. “And the other thing is too, a lot of people (who) are victims don’t know they’re victims. They don’t see themselves as victims.”
Sellers agreed with Lt. John Thorne, who said it’s important for everyone to learn the signs of human trafficking, but especially those who have a higher chance of stumbling across it without even knowing, such as school bus drivers, truck drivers, rest stop area employees and others.
Thorne serves as the commander of licensing and commercial standards — the department which oversees human trafficking-related cases throughout the northern part of Ohio, including Erie and Huron counties.
“The thing about human trafficking is that it’s something that takes place everywhere,” he said. “It’s a crime that exists and is largely hidden and could be taking place right next to you and you wouldn’t really know it unless you knew the signs and were looking for it.
“Anywhere there’s a demand for prostitution, there’s likely to be human trafficking. And anywhere there’s a potential supply and people taking (trafficking victims) to or from, that’s likely to be an area that has it coming though and Huron and Erie counties have a lot of the major highways.”
Thorne said even though he’s not aware of the patrol making any direct arrests in the area, he said they have helped other agencies in investigating and pursuing cases. He said this educational initiative is “undoubtedly” necessary and important, especially as social media continue to make it easier to “hold people hostage.” The lieutenant said it’s all too easy for someone to find or receive a compromising photo of a person and then use that image as leverage.
“They could say they’re going to share this photo worldwide if they don’t partake in these criminal acts (such as prostitution),” he said. “You just think how easy is it for someone to hold somebody else hostage digitally if they don’t participate in these acts. And that’s what you might see more on a local level. It may not be the stereotypical prostitution or human trafficking ways that are portrayed in the movies. It could be situations like this.”
The education will also teach those the patrol comes in contact with various signs that trafficking may be going on the area — things drivers may hear children say, people who aren’t dressed for the weather or who are tasing extensive trips, but don’t have the luggage or items you would typically expect them to need for such a venture, as well as other things to watch out for.
Troopers also will hand out information cards to help identify signs of human trafficking and ask people to report suspected trafficking.
Anyone though can report a trafficking tip by calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline Resource Center (NHTRC) at 888-373-7888, text the BeFree line at 233733 or call the patrol at #677.
Truckers Against Trafficking is an organization founded by truck drivers to combat human trafficking across North America. Commercial motor vehicle drivers are in unique position to assist help law enforcement identify suspected human trafficking as they perform their daily duties across the nation. To learn more about Truckers Against Trucking, visit http://www.truckersagainsttrafficking.org/.