Human trafficking expected to increase during the Republican National Convention

City prepares for human sex trafficking increase during RNC
The Republican National Convention is shedding light on a dark problem in Cleveland: Human sex trafficking.
We’re getting answers on human sex trafficking in Cleveland and how the city is preparing for an expected increase in business during the Republican National Convention in July.  

THE VICTIM
"I was naive and he played on that."

At age 16, Rachel left her home and her parents for a man posing as an attorney. He promised her a life of big city lights and riches.  Instead, those dreams became a living nightmare. Rachel was taken to the streets and to truck stops. She was forced to have sex, often 10 or 12 times a day, with paying customers.

"The way he beat me. He said if I ever left, he'd kill my parents and I believed that," she said.  Rachel says big events like the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals and conventions are the biggest opportunities for sex trafficking.
"The RNC is money. When I would go into different states and stuff like that would happen. That was money," Rachel said.
THE MARKET

"There's a tremendous market right now." Captain Guy Turner of the Westlake Police Department attributes the expected surge in sex trafficking during the RNC in Cleveland to the 500-mile rule.

"The further you are away from home and your ordinary things that control your behavior, the more likely you are to engage in behavior like this," said Turner.
The FBI, local law enforcement and dozens of local outreach groups have been preparing for months for an increase.

In Westlake, officers have been meeting with staff at local hotels and actively trolling sites like backpage.com.  It's estimated 70 percent of internet sex advertising is done on that site alone.

"We pose as a John. We set them up and then we make the arrest,” said Turner.  "If the person is a victim of human trafficking, we can perhaps rescue them and arrest the person responsible."

THE SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM

Each year nearly 1,100 Ohio children become victims of sex slavery.  "We've seen women and girls from every suburb," said Renee Jones. For 14 years, Jones has counseled victims of human trafficking through her empowerment center on W. 65th in Cleveland. 

"We may never be able to eliminate it, but when you bring awareness, you're saving lives," she said.
And young lives are being saved. The average age for girls entering into human trafficking in Ohio is 13. 

Maureen Kenny is an attorney at Case Western Reserve University, specializing in these cases.  She says the RNC is helping to raise awareness about how much of a problem the sex trade is in Cleveland.  

"Ohio ranks 5th in the nation as far as the number for human trafficking," she said.
Kenny added our highway system makes us accessible and our proximity to Canada means it's easy to cross the border quickly.
"We also have the 4th highest number of strip clubs which tends to be a feeder for sex trafficking," she said.
REACHING THE VICTIMS
Much of the illegal activity happens in hotel rooms. For the RNC in Cleveland, hotels -- from Sandusky to Akron -- have been sold out for months.

Nine days before the convention on July 9, hundreds of volunteers from S.O.A.P. (Save our Adolescent from Prostitution) will visit 300 hotels in Cleveland and surrounding counties. The volunteers will pass out missing persons flyers to front desk staff. On them are pictures of children, ages 13, 14, 15, thought to be at risk for human trafficking.

Volunteers also distribute bars of soap with the National Human Trafficking Hotline number on the back. The goal is for the hotels to put them inside their guest rooms. It’s an idea from the founder of S.O.A.P., Theresa Flores -- a trafficking victim who believes it could save lives.

"The only time she was ever alone was to go to the bathroom and wash up in between tricks," said Mary Carol Lewis, who volunteers for S.O.A.P. 
THE SURVIVOR

"This was God's plan. So I could help girls." For Rachel, a probation officer saved her life at age 29.  Her pimp was never arrested for trafficking. She has forgiven all those who violated her. She says she had to,  so she can move on and to now devote her life to saving others.

"I tell them, don't ever give up. Be strong because if I can make it, you can too."
HOW TO HELP
Human trafficking victims span all demographics but certain circumstances make some more vulnerable, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Who is most at-risk?

  • runaway or homeless youth
  • foreign nationals - disconnected with family and friends
  • drug or alcohol issues
  • previously abused
Staff at Cleveland area hotels, hospitals, churches and schools have also been trained on spotting the signs of human trafficking.
What are signs of human trafficking? 
  • stops going to school
  • hangs around a dominant older man, boyfriend
  • avoids eye contact
  • appears afraid to talk or coached on what to say
  • appears disoriented or confused, or shows signs of mental or physical abuse?

What should you do if you see something suspicious?

  • call 911
  • call local police
  • call hotline
  • don't intervene

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