OHIO VALLEY — The signs of human trafficking are often misunderstood but at times, in plain view.
Dr. Christi Bartman recently addressed Gallia Citizens for Prevention and Recovery (CPR) about the issue of human trafficking in Appalachian Ohio, with the hopes of partnering with CPR.
“Human trafficking in Columbus would be different than human trafficking in rural Ohio,” Bartman said. “It helps to have a local coalition that addresses that.”
Human trafficking, according to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, occurs “when a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion or when the person performing the act is under 18. Or the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjugating to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.” According to Bartman’s presentation, in recent years Ohio has been ranked as the 4th or 5th state in the nation for human trafficking.
Certain vulnerabilities put individuals at risk for trafficking, including poverty, being a runaway, marginalization, isolation, lack of education, trauma or abuse, homelessness, addiction, truancy, contact with child welfare or foster care systems, and immigration status. According to Bartman, rural areas face other risks for being susceptible to trafficking, including lack of awareness on the issue, lack of adequate services, limited transportation, lack of funding, geographical separation, lack of economic opportunities, drug and alcohol abuse, cultural norms, truck stop proximity, and lack of awareness by medical law enforcement and court personnel. Many youth trafficked in rural areas are trafficked by family members or someone they know, so there is also more stigma associated with victims coming forward. Working on these issues, Bartman believes, is a way to combat and prevent human trafficking.
Bartman, who does research on available services in southeastern Ohio to identify gaps where services are missing, hopes to help communities be better equipped to fight human trafficking by starting an anti-human trafficking coalition called Eyes Up Appalachia.
“What I will be doing through that is trying to make connections, trying to do education and advocacy efforts throughout Appalachian Ohio regarding human trafficking,” Bartman said. “Part of that is to identify current coalitions like the Gallia CPR, which is already made up of many or most of the organizations that would make up a human trafficking coalition.”
In Ohio, human trafficking is addressed through overarching organizations through the governor’s office, the attorney general’s office, and the Department of Public Safety.
But local initiatives are also important. In 2019, 27 percent of calls to the human trafficking hotline were made by community members from across the United States. Local anti-human trafficking coalitions help raise awareness in those communities.
Anti-human trafficking coalitions are made up of many different organizations that touch human trafficking in some way. These organizations generally include “law enforcement, court, mental health advocates, social service agencies, children services agencies, churches at times,” Bartman said. “Many times, you’ll see coalitions with upwards of 50 members because that many people are interested in trying to do work around human trafficking.” Members of a collation might share information, learn warning signs of trafficking, learn about training opportunities, learn how to respond to trafficking, and coordinate efforts.
Bartman identifies existing local coalitions for her work as well.
“The Gallia CPR…is already made up of many or most of the organizations that would make up a human trafficking coalition,” Bartman said. “There’s no real reason to have another coalition made up of the same members. It might be smarter to have a representative on a current coalition if there’s one that exists.”
Human trafficking in rural areas “has a different appearance” than in metropolitan areas, said Bartman. There has been little work done in human trafficking in rural areas, so it is difficult to know the extent of human trafficking in rural areas.
“It might be there, but it’s identified as something else,” Bartman said. “It comes into law enforcement or ER as sexual abuse or domestic violence or many other things, opioid addiction, if they miss the flag that pushes it over to human trafficking, we won’t know about it.”
In January, nine individuals were arrested and charged with federal crimes “in connection to human trafficking operation involving drugs exchanged for sexual access to children,” according to the Department of Justice U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“Most people, particularly juveniles, will not say that they’re being trafficked,” Bartman said. “That term is not something with which they’re familiar. And many times, the victims will feel ashamed, will feel like it’s their fault. It’s just something that they don’t come out and say, ‘I’m being trafficked, I need help.’…At times it’ll take a case worker, a mental health case worker who identifies it, or a teacher who identifies it.” Medical professionals might also identify signs of trafficking.
Bartman hopes that her work will help those individuals know how to identify signs of human trafficking.
Trafficking can target women, men, children, and members of the LGBTQ community. Some signs that someone might be experiencing trafficking include submissive appearance, nervousness, and appearing scared. An individual may also have an inconsistent story on a relationship or living situation, may not control their identification documents or money, may be inappropriately dressed for the weather or for their age, may be in the presence of a controlling person, may show signs of physical, mental or emotional abuse, may not be able to come and go when they want to, and may be in possession of multiple motel key cards, prepaid cards, or cell phones.
The national human trafficking hotline can be reached at 1-888-373-7888.
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Sharla Moody is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing from Gallipolis, Ohio. She is a graduate of River Valley High School and currently attends Yale University.