Human trafficking: How the Miami Valley is fighting back

MIAMI VALLEY — Human trafficking is a crime experts say is happening everywhere — even the Miami Valley.

On Monday, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said more than 100 human trafficking survivors had been rescued and 177 had been arrested in what is believed to the the state’s largest anti-human trafficking operation. The operation was called Operation Autumn Hope.

>> Ohio AG: 109 survivors rescued, 177 arrests in Operation Autumn Hope

The News Center 7 I-Team looked into the fight against the crime, where it’s being investigated locally and what you can do to try and help victims.

“It’s in all of our local neighborhoods; it’s in our communities,” said Cheryl Oliver, executive director of Oasis House in Dayton, which helps victims of trafficking.

The topic is one, experts say, is complicated and wide-ranging, from sex trafficking to labor trafficking. Both involve “force, fraud or coercion,” according to a study completed in February by the University of Cincinnati.

That study said around 85% of trafficking victims were minors, with most of them girls. Ohio’s top coordinator in the fight against human trafficking said the most recent numbers show 365 cases in Ohio reported to the National Human Trafficking hotline in a one-year period.

“It can be difficult to spot. It’s not necessarily all just out on the street like it once was maybe 10, 15 years ago,” said Sophia Papadimos, anti-trafficking coordinator for the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

She said there are likely many victims that have not been identified yet. Part of the reason, Papadimos said, is because there is “no profile” for a victim.

“What we see is that traffickers are praying on vulnerabilities,” she explained. “So, victims can be men, women and children. And what traffickers do is they hone in on whatever that vulnerability may be.”

There are resources available for all those victims. Leaders at the Oasis House in Dayton said they provide victims with services such as shelter, food, a shower, mentorship programs and partnerships for health care.

But identifying those victims by paying attention to warning signs, Oliver said, is a responsibility that falls on everyone.

“That could be an opportunity to save somebody’s life,” she said.

Some possible warning signs, according to Oliver, are:

  • Someone who is with another person who "seems to control them."
  • Someone who "looks random and lost," perhaps out of place.
  • Someone who won't let the person they're with be seen alone.
  • Young women that are with men "that are much older than them."

Anyone with tips on potential trafficking is encouraged to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

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