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Human trafficking drop-in center in Cleveland helps survivors come forward when they’re ready

Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 7:08 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - More people are now at risk for human trafficking since the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, the U.S. State Department recently warned.

Many victims of human trafficking have been taken advantage of during their toughest times.

Just last week, an Akron hotel clerk was charged in connection with an alleged human trafficking operation, leading to the discovery of five victims.

This is just one of the most recent cases of human trafficking here in Northeast Ohio.

“Although most people think it doesn’t happen here, we know it does and it happens day in day out right in front of us. It’s very difficult to see at times,” said Sarah Trimble, chief external affairs officer for the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.

19 Investigates found Northern Ohio ranks in the top 10 for most criminals charged in federal human trafficking cases last year, according to the Human Trafficking Institute.

Ohio has ranked as high as fifth in the nation for all reported human trafficking cases.

But a new approach could bring more survivors forward.

A nondescript building at East 105th Street and Superior Avenue in Cleveland is now a “safe place.”

Cleveland Rape Crisis Center’s Human Trafficking Drop-in Center just opened this March.

“We’re here to meet people where they are when they need us and we hope that anybody who has experienced labor and sex trafficking will check us out even if it’s just for a shower. Even for it’s a cup of coffee,” Trimble said.

19 Investigates got a tour of the drop-in center, where survivors can get food and a place to rest, do their laundry or get help with searching for jobs.

Art created by human trafficking survivors is displayed around the drop-in center.
Art created by human trafficking survivors is displayed around the drop-in center.(WOIO)

The most common way police found out about human trafficking cases last year was self-reporting by a survivor.

Breaking away can be difficult, but that’s not where their challenges end.

This drop-in center can be there for survivors every step of the way.

“If someone is seeking justice through the justice system they can come here and get free advocacy. If someone needs help with basic needs, they can come here and get case management services, link them to temporary housing or more permanent housing than some of the shelters they’re in,” Trimble said.

We found over a dozen trafficking survivors have stopped by the center so far.

Advocates said that’s a monumental feat compared to what they’ve seen at similar agencies.

And there is no pressure for any commitment from survivors who use their services.

Donations

The drop-in center runs on donations. If you would like to help, they will take new clothing, shoes, undergarments, toiletries, old cell phones and chargers.

You can also make a monetary donation to the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center and earmark it for the Human Trafficking Drop-in Center.

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