This seminar title caught my eye in Early December. As a Dominican Associate, I knew that in 2013, the congregation had pledged: “We, the Dominican Sisters of Peace, proclaim our mission to be a prophetic voice in solidarity with the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. We, along with our Dominican Associates, commit our support to efforts to end human trafficking.”
As a woman horrified by the violence and degradation visited on women and children by this terrible practice, I had attended an educational series on human trafficking hosted by Lyn Schott in Akron and had joined the Summit County Collaborative, a multi-disciplinary group of social workers, court personnel, victims’ advocates, law enforcement professionals and volunteers.
This recent seminar, created by PhD candidate Kristin Silver in the Department of Psychology at the University of Akron, featured Ms. Jaime Blair, Judicial Attorney, Summit Country Juvenile Court; Professor Joann Saul, University of Akron School of Law; FBI Special Agent Charles Johnson, and a young woman who herself had been trafficked in the sex trade.
Panelists made these points:
- Human trafficking is servitude or economic exploitation through force, fraud or coercion.
- Estimates range from 12- to 27-million victims in the world, 100,000 in the US.
- Ohio ranks fifth in the US in reports of human trafficking. Victims are primarily American, working as domestic slaves or in the sex industry.
Jaime Blair said that in her three years at the Juvenile Court, “Most victims are not those snatched off the street, but those drawn in by someone they trusted, were in relationship with.”
She spoke of the role of shame: “Some victims carry shame as an identity. Shame makes you feel guilty and unworthy. We don’t ask ‘Why?’ of a victim – that is a shaming question. Love is greater – accepting them as they are, where they are. Through relationship is how victims recover. And the survivors are the strongest, most resilient women I’ve ever met.”
Professor and attorney Joann Saul spoke of the Re-Entry Clinic she started at the University of Akron, to help adults expunge criminal convictions that prevent them from getting jobs or housing. This free service can help those convicted of prostitution, for example, who likely have been the victims of human trafficking. Her disappointment is that only two victims have come to the clinic. Shame and an unwillingness to appear in public court are reasons she cited. Also, it may be that few know of the clinic’s existence.
The FBI’s Charles Johnson said that every victim he has encountered is hooked on heroin. He cited three factors in all human trafficking: a vulnerable person, an exploiter and demand.
A brave young woman survivor spoke of how she was lured into prostitution by a man she trusted and how even now, three years after leaving him and that life, “I am still working through it.” She has been helped by the long-term support of some on this panel.
Readers can find more information and resources here and at the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at traffickingresourcecenter.org, which offers a hotline (1.888.373.7888) to answer calls from anywhere in the US in more than 200 languages. The resource center seeks to connect human trafficking victims and survivors to support and services and to equip the anti-trafficking community with tools to combat all forms of human trafficking. Also available on YouTube is an 11-minute video, “A Novel Solution to Sex Trafficking.”