Thursday, July 30 is officially World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, or World Day Against Trafficking, with more than 1,000 Ohio children being the victims of human sex trafficking every year, according to Operation Underground Railroad.
A local women’s group that attends Hillsboro’s Good News Gathering told The Times-Gazette that they plan what member Letty Allen described as an “information rally” on the Highland County Courthouse square Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon, and Saturday from from 6-9 p.m.
“My group, the Better Together in Christ Ladies Life Group, had it laid on our hearts to do something about this,” Allen said. “This whole sex slavery thing is huge, and when I heard about Tim Ballard, who organized Operation Underground Railroad, we thought ‘what can we do for those young children that can’t help themselves.’”
The local event coincides with the worldwide “Rise Up for Children” Thursday event under the auspices of the organization, a non-profit group that described its mission as the eradication of child sex trafficking around the world.
The organization’s website stated that through it and its partners, more than 10,000 children had been rescued from enslavement, exploitation and at-risk situations.
The heinous crime of human trafficking goes beyond that of the child sex trade, according to REACH for Tomorrow Director of Advocacy Beth Bullock, who last year did a presentation for the Highland County Drug Abuse Coalition on human trafficking.
She said the opioid epidemic made human trafficking a high dollar industry with tentacles that reached all the way into Highland County, where ensnaring just one victim into its web could mean huge amounts of money for the perpetrator.
“They all have a daily quota, which on average is about $1,000,” she said. “They literally keep them under their thumb six days a week, 52 weeks a year — that’s over $300,000 for just one human trafficking victim.”
While the Thursday and Sunday Operation Underground Railroad event is mainly concerned with child sex trafficking, Bullock said the crime can take on many forms. She defined it as exploitation of an individual solely for the financial gain of another.
“There’s the obvious commercial sex trafficking where people are being bought and sold for sex, which is about 25 percent of the trafficking nationwide,” she said. “But there’s also labor trafficking where someone is held in debt bondage or involuntary servitude, where people aren’t allowed to leave, have to stay in one location and don’t have control of their lives.”
Bullock noted some of the “red flags” of human trafficking, such as a lack of eye contact from the victim combined with a high level of anxiety, when another person does all the talking for them such as a visit to a doctor, or if they can’t produce any form of identification when asked.
Operation Underground Railroad pointed out that Ohio ranked fourth in human trafficking, and Bullock said it wasn’t because of drugs or poverty but because of the state’s network of highways.
“We have U.S. 23 that comes in from West Virginia and goes through Columbus and Toledo and into Detroit,” she said. “There’s I-275 which will take you into three states in about half an hour, and I-71 and I-75 provide north/south interstate access, and I-74 takes you into Chicago, and a lot of our drug trafficking comes from there.”
Allen invited everyone in the Hillsboro community and surrounding areas to stand with Operation Underground Railroad to bring about awareness and information so the growing problem of human trafficking of children can be eliminated.
She said everyone is invited and encouraged to meet in front of the Highland County Courthouse on Thursday and Sunday to spread awareness, to advocate for prevention, and to support rescue efforts.
For more information about Operation Underground Railroad, go to ourrescue.org.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.