Advocates address uphill challenges as Human Trafficking Awareness Month begins

Published: Jan. 3, 2023 at 12:08 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 3, 2023 at 12:09 AM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - On Monday, the Terminal Tower was lit up in blue to mark the beginning of Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

As local advocates push for deeper conversations about the issue, Kirstie Mouncey, the president of the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking, suggested there are plenty of uphill challenges.

“The problem with this issue is that it is so underrecognized and so underreported,” she told 19 News. “It is so difficult for survivors to name the experience that’s happening to them. And then, when they’re ready, to need a provider or someone in law enforcement to be trained enough to know what the next steps. When we don’t see something, we don’t really know it’s there. With human trafficking, we know it’s happening under our noses all the time but we’re not equipped to recognize it and address it adequately enough.”

That’s why organizations like the collaborative are so vocal.

“Everyone has a role to play in identifying this crime and taking action,” said Mouncey.

In February of last year, the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Human Trafficking Task Force conducted a sting operation targeting men who tried paying for sex as well as people posting ads for sex online.

More than a dozen potential victims of human trafficking were identified, and eight men were arrested for soliciting prostitution, or related charges.

While none of the men were tied directly to trafficking, detectives told 19 News they play a role in a vicious cycle.

“If it wasn’t for these ‘Johns’ helping to perpetuate this cycle, the demand side of this, there wouldn’t be so many girls out there doing this,” said Detective John Morgan.

As of January 2, 2023, three of the men arrested during that sting were placed in a one year diversion program for first time offenders. They’re likely off the hook if they complete their program without any violations.

Three others were given fines of $100 or less along with one year probation.

Another man received two years probation.

One of the suspects did not show up for his most recent court appearance.

“Addressing law and prosecutorial practices... it lags. It’s hard to catch up,” Mouncey said. “That coupled with victims and survivors not speaking up, we have a system that moves slow.”

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