WESTLAKE, OH (WOIO) - Human trafficking is a hidden crime that's become an epidemic across the nation. Victims can be kids, adults, men, or women who are terrorized physically or emotionally and forced to do things against their will.
"It's really bad in every state, in every city, in every town," said Collaborative to End Human Trafficking Director of Education Sister Anne Victory.
She said it's hard to tell how many people are victims of human trafficking, but those who've escaped often continue to struggle with flashbacks to the torture.
"They're really terrorized and it's a horrible, horrible thing to live through, so they suffer the trauma just like soldiers coming back from war would suffer the PTSD symptoms," Victory said.
National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888
There are signs people can spot.
"That person is cowering, that person is looking really down and depressed and maybe malnourished," Victory said.
According to Collaborative, in general, the person:
- May not speak for themselves; they defer to a controlling individual.
- Can appear submissive, afraid, or nervous, and avoids eye contact.
- Shows signs of physical or mental abuse.
- Has inconsistencies in their story or has a well-rehearsed story.
- Suddenly has new, expensive clothing, jewelry, and other items.
- Has a tattoo that could, in fact, be a trafficker's branding.
- Has multiple hotel card keys, credit cards, or cell phones.
- Is not in possession of his/her U.S. or international identification documents.
"Traffickers, especially in sex trafficking, will brand their property, just like cattle would be branded. It's pretty awful," Victory said.
These days, social media is one of the main ways people get trapped. It's a place many younger victims get preyed on, which is why it's important parents stay involved.
"They often become victims because they're needy in some way and so someone offers them something they're looking for or pays attention to them or things aren't so good at home, so they reach out to someone who's kind to them," Victory said.
Ohio ranks fourth in the nation for the number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Victory said that isn't necessarily a bad thing, rather it means people in Ohio are more aware of the human trafficking epidemic compared to most.
If you'd like to report a suspected human trafficking case, you can either call or text the national hotline at 1-888-373-7888. You can also call the Cuyahoga County Regional Human Trafficking Task force at 1-216-443-6085.