YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Human trafficking isn’t just common in other countries, it happens in America as well.
Ohio ranks near the top out of all states for human trafficking.
Mercy Health Youngstown hosted an event called “Human Trafficking in Our Community: How Do We Respond?” It took place at St. Elizabeth Hospital downtown.
The hope of the event was that it would mobilize resources and create specific plans to identify both victims and offenders.
Local law enforcement and human rights and medical professionals wanted to get the word out about the seriousness of this issue.
“This is a start. This is an opportunity for us to talk with our partners throughout the Mahoning Valley,” said Paul Homick, President of Mercy Health Foundation.
Human trafficking is the act of forcing a person into slavery or sexual exploitation.
Investigators say there is a strong correlation between trafficking and heroin. The pimps and johns are using heroin as a way to control their victims.
“I have not, at this point in my human trafficking investigations, found a girl that was not on heroin. Not yet,” said Major Jeff Allen with the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Department.
Victims are afraid of getting in trouble. It’s also difficult to identify them because they’re under control.
“We have several women who are dedicated to educating young men, boys, older men on…how they can treat women,” said Susan Laird, the president of the Northeast Ohio Coalition Against Human Trafficking.
Eighty percent of victims reach out through the healthcare system, and Mercy Health says it wants to help.
“Where we can share our ideas and the response we have for this crisis. It was an opportunity for us to hear the perspectives and hear some really hard, touching stories,” Homick said.
Organizers say change starts with departments and organizations working together, with help from the public.
“If you see something, say something. We all know when things just don’t look right,” Laird said.
These different organizations are trying to get one step ahead of johns and pimps to combat human trafficking.