FIRST ON: Imagine Foundation releases report on human traffickin - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

FIRST ON: Imagine Foundation releases report on human trafficking in Cleveland

You may never look at our local highways or their nearby hotels the same after a report released Monday, claiming the freeways are conduits for a booming sex slave business advertised on the web site of its affiliate, the popular Cleveland Scene newspaper.

Jesse Bach of the Imagine Foundation spent months preparing to release the report on Northeastern Ohio's dark secret of human trafficking, or bluntly put: the sex slave trade.

"Right now slavery is worse than during the Civil War and it's going on in our back yards," says Bach.  "We as Clevelanders cannot tolerate the sale of women and children."

The Imagine Foundation reports that hotels near highways like I-77, 271 and 480 are prime locations because of their quick interstate access.

"Human trafficking is occurring in our most affluent communities at hotels directly off the exit ramps," says Bach.

Pick up any copy of Scene, its back pages are full of ads for escorts, who the attorneys general for more than twenty states call nothing more than prostitution.

"Five different girls are tied to one phone number," says Bach.

And on the Scene's affiliate website, backpage.com, are all the alleged sex slaves.  Prosecutors say you can tell the difference between willing escorts and sex slaves because the so-called escorts give personal information and always show their faces, unlike the sex slaves whose faces are never shown and several girls are advertised through one phone number.

The Scene magazine is headquartered in downtown Cleveland on West 9th Street. According to its publisher Chris Keating, "We adamantly deny all allegations related to sex trafficking on the paper or its website.  We remain diligent on taking preventative action to reassure that does not happen or exist on our different media platforms."

Many of the girls are local and from good homes, like the case of the 16-year-old girl from Elyria, forced to be an Internet sex slave by Timothy Davis.  Davis is scheduled to be sentenced later this year.

The Scene and backpage.com are both owned by the New York City-based Village Voice Media, which is accused of making a fortune off these advertisements.

See the whole report here.

If you need help call the National Human Trafficking Resource at 1-888-373-7888.

Copyright 2011 WOIO. All rights reserved.

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