MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Ohio (WDTN) – Human trafficking has become the second fastest growing criminal industry and the Miami Valley is a prime target for the crime.
Currently, every single private and public school in the Miami Valley is being offered free human trafficking materials such as books for their staff and students.
They include two books and a guidebook created by Abolition Ohio, a local anti-human trafficking organization, and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
The human trafficking problem is so bad the University of Dayton has an anti-human trafficking director, Tony Talbott. He’s dedicated his career to finding a solution.
“It’s happening in Oakwood, Miamisburg, Beavercreek, and Xenia. Even as far out as Jeffersonville and Jamestown. So, it’s not just an inner-city issue,” said Talbott.
More than 300 human trafficking cases have happened in Ohio in the past several years, Talbott says many of them occurred in the Miami Valley.
2 NEWS reporter Maytal Levi sat down with a human trafficking victim who says it’s a serious problem that’s happening throughout the region.
“When I was a teenager I was targeted by a group of guys and ended up being drugged, raped, and blackmailed,” said Theresa Flores, Columbus resident.
At 15-years-old Theresa Flores became a human trafficking victim.
“I was sold for two years over and over again at night and then I would go back to school the next day and no one had any idea,” she said.
Now at 51, Flores is raising awareness by sharing her story and co-founding SOAP, Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution.
“Nobody helped me and I want kids to be able to get help,” said Flores.
The main targets are pre-teen boys and girls.
“If a child is being prostituted or trafficked in the state of Ohio, the average age that first happens is 11 or 12-years-old,” said Talbott.
To stop it, Talbott and Flores have teamed with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. Their goal is to help students, teachers and parents identify signs of human trafficking and raise awareness.
“I think it’s very important to educate middle-schoolers and high school students about human trafficking because it’s not like any other crime,” said DeWine.
He says it’s a crime we all could be witnessing every day and never know it.
“People can see it, but not recognize it.”
Now, they’re working to get their education guidebooks to 200 middle and high schools in the Miami Valley. Something Flores says isn’t easy.
‘They’re scared. The principals are scared, ‘like oh, my gosh, it might upset a parent’. They’re going to be talking about sex, these kids talk about that every day,” said Flores.
So far, four schools have accepted the books into their libraries. The first one was Fairmont High School in Kettering.
2 NEWS reporter Maytal Levi asked Flores, “What would you say to parents who say this would never happen to my kids?”
“I’m sure my parents said that, too. My dad worked really hard to live in a nice suburb with a $300,000 house,” she said. “My dad would never have thought something like this would happen to his daughter.”
Flores suspects it’s happening to at least 1,000 kids locally. She says human trafficking is a business and it’s advancing with technology. Trafficking recruiters are finding kids on social media and while they’re gaming.
“They are beginning to use social media as a means, not just to recruit, but also to contact costumers and sell sex victims online,” said Talbott.
Talbott says if a school turns down their offer it’s a disservice to the community.
“The earlier we can do prevention education, the better to prevent children from being harmed,” he said.
As for Flores, she says she googles her abusers, but can’t do anything about it. She never filed charges when she had the chance.
“Statute of limitations is over. So, there is nothing I can do. I decided this is what my justice looks like,” she said.
Schools that accepted the free program:
- Chaminade -Julienne
- Kettering Fairmont High School
- Ponitz Career Technology Center
- Miami East High School
Kettering Fairmont and Chaminade-Julienne have been actively involved in anti-human trafficking education and programming within their schools for several years.
Schools reviewing materials:
Here are the schools that have materials:
- Catholic Central
- Miami East High School
- Piqua High School
- Archbishop Alter
- Bishop Fenwick
- Carroll High School
- David H. Ponitz Career Technology Center
- Dayton Early College Academy, Inc (DECA)
- Lehman Catholic High School
- Stephen T. Badin High School
Abolition Ohio hopes to reach every high school in the Miami Valley by the end of the year.Warning signs of human trafficking from the Ohio Human Trafficking Commission:
- If you are going into a nail salon, for example, look for sleeping bags that indicate employees are living in the same place where they work and that backrooms appear to be living space. You might notice workers at this salon are driven to the store in groups all at once.
- When a worker answers casual questions, those answers seem scripted or rehearsed.
- Workers may appear exceptionally young or fearful or particularly submissive.
- If you are staying in a hotel or if you work at a hotel, you might see an older male checking in with a young female or females. You might see a young girl refer to that older man as her boyfriend or as “daddy,” sometimes street slang for pimp. Look for a tattoo of a man’s name, a slang name, or “daddy” on the girl’s neck, leg, or shoulder. Does the guest have multiple cell phones, laptops, etc.?
- Are the guests at the hotel frequent customers on weekends, but have a local address and identification?
- Small children serving in a family restaurant.
- Security measures that appear to keep people inside an establishment – barbed wire inside of a fence, bars covering the insides of windows.
- Not allowing people to go into public alone, or speak for themselves.
National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-3737-888