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4 dead as severe storms hit Houston, TX; Election Protection Program eases access to voting information; surge in solar installations eases energy costs for Missourians; IN makes a splash for Safe Boating Week.

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The Supreme Court rules funding for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is okay, election deniers hold key voting oversight positions in swing states, and North Carolina lawmakers vote to ban people from wearing masks in public.

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Experts: Human traffickers prey on the vulnerable

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Thursday, January 11, 2024   

Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, and experts said the trafficking of women, children, and men continues to be a problem in Ohio.

According to federal data, more than 2,000 people were referred to attorneys for human trafficking offenses in 2021, a 49% increase from a decade ago.

Vanessa Perkins, director of programs for Freedom a la Cart in Columbus, a nonprofit catering company employing and empowering survivors of sex trafficking, said traffickers prey on an individual's vulnerabilities.

"That can be housing, that can be drug addiction, that can be food, that can be homelessness, it can be mental health, it can be disabilities," Perkins outlined. "There's many reasons that people are vulnerable."

She added victims of trafficking can contact crisis intervention centers, Freedom a la Cart or the Salvation Army if they do not want to go to the police.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 888-373-7888. The hotline said it received more than 1,000 calls from Ohio in 2021, and more than 350 of the calls were from victims or survivors of human trafficking.

Perkins pointed out it is possible to spot signs of human trafficking, including age differences between individuals traveling together, clothing seemingly inappropriate for the weather or situation, physical injuries or branding such as name tattoos on the face or chest, and a person deferring to another before speaking or giving information.

"For example, like if someone doesn't talk for themselves, if someone else is talking for them, that's like a red flag, it's an indicator," Perkins noted.

Last fall, Ohio law enforcement arrested 160 individuals involved in human trafficking, including 149 people wanting to buy sex. According to the Ohio Attorney General's Office, those arrested come from all backgrounds, including nurses, educators, retirees, former law enforcement officers, delivery drivers and others. The youngest person arrested was 17, and the oldest was 84.

Reporting by Ohio News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.


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