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Human Trafficking: Part I Sex Trafficking Victims

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Editor’s Note: This article appeared in January 2018

by Walt Schaefer

Part 1 of a 4 part series

The interstate highway system provides vital arteries for commerce. It is the circulatory system of America.

Pulsing along these multilane ribbons are trucks and vans and automobiles — all serving the travel needs of countless businesses and their customers — moving goods from supplier to user.

Sadly, not all of this commerce is legal and, surprisingly, human trafficking ranks third behind drugs and guns in generating illegal revenue, according to law enforcement officials. As interstate hubs, Cincinnati and Dayton are not immune and, police vice control officers agree, this growing scourge is among the most difficult of crimes to combat.

Cincinnati Vice Squad Specialist Nate Young said sex trafficking runs the gamut from organized crime to the neighborhood pimp offering his small harem of women to willing customers.

“A circuit exists and we have been exposed to it here in Cincinnati,” he said. Several years ago, an investigation uncovered a Cincinnati man “moving his girls from Cincinnati to Louisville to Indianapolis to Columbus to Dayton and back.” He also had connections to a man in Los Angeles, “and there was some exchange between them — high-end prostitutes ‘‘tricked’ from city to city.”

Even greater in scope, another standard circuit runs from Chicago to Cincinnati to Nashville to Atlanta to New Orleans, Young said.”These are traffickers in sex, working a handful of days in each city and moving on. They base themselves in hotels” and advertise their presence on Craig’s List, social media, and pornographic websites dedicated to the illicit trade.

When a city hosts a big sporting event or convention, the traffickers descend on it with girls for hire: supply and demand at its most perverse.

Sex trafficking also is found in massage parlors and nail salons, said Cincinnati Police Officer Carrie Smith (a pseudonym for a female vice squad officer who at times works undercover). Young said strip clubs offer another haven for sex trafficking although there are none in Cincinnati. Customers can even flip through the Yellow Pages and look under escort services to “hook up.”

“Massage parlors are getting a lot more attention, because some are not what they seem to be on the surface,” Smith said.

“We’re looking at places where women are getting their nails done and people are going in and out. You might see someone going in a back room, and there’s a living space back there. When you’re getting your nails done in say, Kenwood, and it’s $50, and then you go to this weird little salon and it costs $15 and people are working from the time the shop opens until it closes, that’s a signal that something isn’t right. We pay attention to those types of things that aren’t the norm.”

Young noted that while there are no Cincinnati strip clubs, nearby clubs can attract police attention. “We did an investigation that originated in the city that took us to a [since closed] club called Deja Vu in Clermont County.” Many of its employees were Russian, an indication even before local human trafficking was less rampant, that there was nothing typical about its business.

Drugs and Recruiting Mix

Those who recruit women (and, less comonly, men) into sex trafficking often search for drug addicts, or recruit young people by getting them hooked on narcotics. Once they come to the recruiter for ther next fix, he or she gradually introduces them to the sex trade, Smith explained.

“That element of dependency on the trafficker is one of the biggest problems these women face,” she said. “Several of the women we have spoken to in the last few years, have had the same beginnings; the same story.

“They were at a point in their really young lives where they were taken advantage of. We have heard from several women that the first time they were given heroin was by a parent, or someone else they were very close to in their house.

“What ends up happening if someone you trusts gives you something like that, is it makes you dependent… inviting the next person to give you the same thing you are already addicted to” and having to “earn it” with sex, she explained. “A lot of women decide it is almost like the beginnings of a relationship. They build trust in the recruiter. They become dependent on that person, who becomes their trafficker and takes advantage of them. But it starts, in a lot of cases, in their house when they’re 11, 12, 13. It’s sad.”

Young said that women find “all kinds of different avenues” for prostitution.

“You can stand on the street corner,” he said. “You can advertise on Craig’s List or other sites put there solely for escort services or dating sites. The true hard-core traffickers are in cyberspace looking for those people who are using the Internet to advertise, or they are out physically on the streets looking for girls or men who are in dire enough straits that they feel they can pull them into a trafficking situation.”

Law Enforcement Faces Trafficking Roadblocks

Trying to combat this issue presents law enforcement with a nightmare.

The victims are threatened and fear retaliation. They have committed felony offenses as part of their sexual enslavement and don’t trust police to forgive and forget.

And while most traffickers work out of hotels, most look the other way.

“My professional experience tells me there is no hotel I have never been in that has not had a victim of human trafficking operating out of it,” Young said.

“It’s a complicated issue. When you’re the owner or proprietor one of these lower-end motels, you’re scratching and clawing to maintain your rat-infested, roach-filled motel. You don’t want to turn down that 40 bucks. A lot of times they turn a blind eye because they’re trying to make ends meet. We don’t get much cooperation.

“With the upper-end hotels, their angle is they want to turn a blind eye because they do not want publicity. They don’t want to lose a contract with visiting teams for the baseball season because suddenly they’re a human trafficking hub. They don’t want to lose that pipefitters convention coming to town. They don’t want to have anyone perceiving them as having an issue with the trafficking element at their hotel.

“Generally, they won’t call us,” he said. “We know this because we have talked to them about putting up signage in their hotels relating to what human trafficking looks like. ‘If you see something, say something’; ‘Everybody’s a victim’ — all of that stuff. Everyone has respectfully declined having any type of literature or signage in their hotel talking about human trafficking and reporting it.”

Someone Sees Something: How to React

Police receive a lot of tips about sex trafficking from the public.

“We get a lot of anonymous information, which is good,” Young said. “We make an assumption it is from a citizen, but I’m sure it has sometimes come from hotel managers or people like that. They are also citizens. We even get tips from Johns who may say they ‘just seen this girl and she was in a messed-up situation and I think she’s in trouble’ — I’ve received text tips from that dynamic of people. Anonymous calls from family members of victims of trafficking come in, too.”

Cincinnati police are building datatbases from tips, phone numbers, electronic sources, and information provided by the national human trafficking hotline (1-888-373-7888) to help them track when traffickers and their victims return to the state. While these are long-term solutions, Young said that calls from the public are vital to helping vicitms every day.

“If you see something, call us right away and give as much detail as you can,” he said. If you’re not sure who to call, the national hotline will inform the correct local police departments or agencies, for a quick response.

“Never step in and intervene,” he cautioned. “Weapons are generally implied in these issues. When we talk about getting search warrants or intercepting the trafficker, there’s always a possibility of weapons.

“Instead we advise citizens to be the very best possible witnesses they can be, to get as much information about what they’re seeing and who they’re seeing and get it to us. General descriptions are great but license plates are of greater use. Look for tattoos or any key identifier, too.”

State and local policing

Cincinnati police, Young said, are juggling numerous human trafficking cases. “Right now, between labor and sex trafficking, we are working on three or four cases,” he said, along with another “three or four where we have some information, but not enough to really do anything with yet.”

State Attorney Mike DeWine’s office also has a general task force on trafficking. Some cities, including Toledo, partner with the FBI. While neither Cincinnati nor Dayton have an FBI task force partnership, law enforcement statewide frequently collaborate on large-scale trafficking issues.

“We have a continuous working group that meets monthly here,” Smith noted, “different agencies working on different cases. Sometimes it will go on in a place like a Blue Ash or Sharonville hotel. We work with a lot of different agencies. Criminals don’t necessarily abide by city boundaries. ”

Prayer to end Human Trafficking

Loving Father,

We seek your divine protection for all who are exploited and enslaved.

For those forced into labor, trafficked into sexual slavery, and denied freedom.

We beseech you to release them from their chains.

Grant them protection, safety, and empowerment.

Restore their dignity and provide them a new beginning.

Show us how we might end exploitation by addressing its causes.

Help us reach out in support of victims and survivors of human trafficking.

Make us instruments of your spirit for their liberation.

For this we pray through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen


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