A Data Perspective of Ohio’s Response to Human Trafficking
Presenter: Kristina Nicholson, Researcher - Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services
By Moriah Lieberman, CJRC Undergraduate Intern
Kristina Nicholson from the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services presented, “A Data Perspective of Ohio’s Response to Human Trafficking.” Human trafficking is modern day slavery epitomized by the definition: people profiting from the control and exploitation of others through force, fraud or coercion, which can include threats to a person or his or her family. After learning about the problem of human trafficking in other countries, Nicholson became interested in the issue and its prevalence in the United States. This interest deepened after she became employed by Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Service which deals with human trafficking in Ohio.
In Ohio, the definition of slavery is broad and includes both sex trafficking and labor trafficking. There are various industries where labor trafficking takes place in the United States, including, massage parlors, roofing, construction, housekeeping, and childcare provided by nannies. According to Nicholson, the state has a responsibility to recognize, prevent, and protect all victims or potential victims of human trafficking as well as prosecute those who traffic individuals.
Collecting data on the prevalence of human trafficking in Ohio is difficult since it is a part of the underground economy. Nicholson emphasized the need to be skeptical about the data and statistics available and advocated strongly in favor of the need for better data collection at the local, state, and national level.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) offers a national hotline that offers services to victims of human trafficking and tracks the number of reported cases. The center does not automatically contact law enforcement unless the victim is under 18 years old. Due to the victim-centered nature of the center, they receive a lot of detailed information about potential trafficking cases. In 2015, there were a total of 21,947 phone calls made to the hotline. Out of those calls, 5,544 were unique cases of potential human trafficking. The other calls could include requests for information about trafficking from the general public.
Ohio, with 98 cases reported in 2015, ranked 4th, behind California, Florida, and Texas, for number of cases identified by the NHTRC. Between 2014 and 2015, a significant jump in the number of cases reported and calls from victims of trafficking in Ohio occurred. This increase in calls is believed to have resulted from the inclusion of the NHTRC hotline number in all Ohio Awareness Campaign material about human trafficking which included 6,000 posters in 5 different languages.
What is especially interesting is that a recent public opinion poll showed that while the majority of people believe that slavery exists in the world, they are less likely to believe it happens in the United States and even less likely to believe it happens in Ohio. This misinformation needs to be addressed because with more awareness, there will be a greater push for legislation that addresses human trafficking. Another misconception is that the majority of human trafficking victims are from countries abroad. In reality, a significant number of human trafficking victims are citizens of the United States.
Ohio House Bill 64 mandates that University of Toledo’s Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute must conduct research to determine how universities can work with federal, state, and local officials and other organizations to respond to the human trafficking. In addition, the Bill ensures that university-level research, legal information, and educational programs are available statewide. The University of Toledo is working with other state universities, including, The Ohio State University and University of Dayton to accomplish these tasks.
Another important aspect of combatting human trafficking is to make the public more aware of the red flags that could signal human trafficking. Many victims do not have access to a telephone or are scared to reach out for help. Red flags include a woman having a tattoo of the name of a man on her body, a child with a significantly older adult and the child seems to be uncomfortable, or the aforementioned child does not know how to speak English.
Additionally, law enforcement is often the first contact a human trafficked victim has with the outside world. Therefore it is very important that law enforcement knows how to handle the situation and communicate with the victim. Nicholson argued that there should be training on human trafficking for all individuals who are entering law enforcement as well as additional training annually. Similarly, other occupations that are likely to have contact with victims of human trafficking, such as cosmetology, should have training as well.
Overall, Ohio is doing relatively well compared to other states in addressing human trafficking. There is an awareness campaign, legislation supporting anti-trafficking, and an Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force. There is still more that can be done to address human trafficking. Currently, Nicholson’s main project is to capture and sort the data on the prevalence of human trafficking from the 20 coalitions around Ohio recording and addressing human trafficking.