AP NEWS

Summit County Collaborative Against Human Trafficking says crime on the rise, hosts awareness event

January 24, 2018 GMT

Summit County Collaborative Against Human Trafficking says crime on the rise, hosts awareness event

AKRON, Ohio – As crimes go, selling humans to other humans is difficult to track and measure. What we know, thanks to a handful of local researchers, is that Fairlawn and East Avenue in Akron top the list of secondary and tertiary locations in sex-trafficking advertisements posted on Backpage.com under Akron/Canton.

Along with high-ranking locales Cleveland and North Canton, the Akron geographic points are ideal because of their proximity to the highway.

“They have all the right elements,” said Jan Apisa, director of community engagement for the Victim Assistance Program of Summit County. “Areas of affluence closely adjoined by areas of poverty.”

Apisa also co-chairs the executive committee of the Summit County Collaborative Against Human Trafficking, which has representatives from across the region, including Summit County Juvenile Court, the Summit County Sheriff, the Akron Police Department, Summit County Children Services, Battered Women’s Shelter and many others.

The collaborative doesn’t provide services directly to victims. It works to educate the community so people can recognize and assist victims. It wants people to understand human trafficking in Summit County, like everywhere, is on the rise.

“It’s a crime that doesn’t discriminate,” Apisa said. “It happens in impoverished areas as well as wealthy areas. We don’t have our arms all the way around it.”

On Saturday, Jan. 27, the collaborative and other groups are hosting a free Human Trafficking Awareness Event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Akron-summit County Public Library in downtown Akron. The event will offer vendors, speakers, panel discussion on efforts to combat trafficking in Summit County and children’s programs. Attendees can watch the movie “Chosen” and hear from a survivor.

Summit County has declared January National Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month. The Polaris Project’s National Human Trafficking Hotline reports that about 700,000 people -- mostly women and girls -- are trafficked in the U.S. annually. Of those, about 1,000 Ohio minors are sex trafficked, and more than 2,000 others are at risk.

Overall, Ohio ranks fourth in the country for number of substantive calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

To begin to understand the breadth and depth of human trafficking in Summit County, nine volunteers from the collaborative worked with the Imagine Foundation, AmeriCorps Members and Partners Against Trafficking Humans Stark compiling data to create the only report in existence on human trafficking in the Akron/Canton area.

From December 2014 to March 2015, they read ads posted in the escort section of Backpage.com, a Craigslist-type site, tracking price and race of victims, as well as area codes, dates, phone numbers, addresses and other data.

As they sifted through ads, they input data into a spreadsheet by hand. If they had copied and pasted, it would have skewed data the FBI is continuously gathering from the site.

They collected nearly 35,000 independent data points from nearly 3,000 ads. In addition to identifying the four most frequent area codes, and 556 distinct phone numbers, they came to understand some of the industry’s jargon, Apisa said.

Ads with many emojis were usually posted by women; roses represent money and victims are sometimes branded with tattoos. When an ad contained a photo with a blurred face, it was likely trafficking a child.

Some top findings from the study include:

Most ads are posted on Monday, followed by FridayMost advertised locations are near major highway systems, with many near hotels and motelsFairlawn was identified in 232 ads; Cleveland was named in 130 ads; North Canton was 117 ads; and East Avenue in 108 adsOut of 81 area codes, 330 had the most posting at 1,495; 234 was posted 356 times; and 216 240 timesFaces were shown in 66 percent of adsWhite females were depicted in almost 62 percent of ads

As the researchers worked, they regularly reported their findings to the Polaris Project’s National Human Trafficking Hotline and/or local authorities. Once the data was collected, the researchers wrote a report available here, and presented their findings to local law enforcement and the FBI.

They also developed the Human Trafficking Service Matrix Resource Guide, available here, for service providers that the roles of the local participating agencies and offers information on how to respond to the needs of a human trafficking victims.

The group concluded that frontline agencies and advocacy groups working together with the general public could significantly decrease human trafficking, with awareness, education and prevention programs key. An extensive list is published in the report.

Although Backpage no longer has an escort section in its online ads, sex trafficking ads can still be found in its dating section.

Sen. Rob Portman is hoping his bill, Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, will tighten Internet laws to prevent online sex trafficking. Portman offered the bill after the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found Backpage.com had knowingly accepted online ads for paid sex with teens. The bill would remove a shield that offers protection to huge online companies like Google and Facebook that can’t monitor their massive volumes content. The shield would only be removed if the company knowingly supported online sex trafficking and violated federal sex trafficking laws.

The Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved the bill last November. It’s not known when the bill will get a full Senate vote and approval in the House of Representatives.

Members of the collaborative are giving presentations and the group hosts events around the county. Apisa encourages everyone to learn how to identify human trafficking and how to protect children.

“When I give a presentation and I reach one person, I’m pleased,” she said. “It’s that important to me that people understand human trafficking.”

To book Apisa or a speaker from the Collaborative Against Human Trafficking, call 330-376-0040 or send an email.

If you suspect human trafficking is taking place, call the Human Trafficking Hotline 1-888-3737-888, or text 233733, and type in “help” or “info.” If you believe you have encountered a human trafficking victim call 911.

An event featuring survivor, activist and author Theresa Flores of TraffickFree is set for Thursday Feb. 15 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Nordonia High School, 8006 S. Bedford Road in Macedonia.

Want more Akron news? Sign up for cleveland.com’s Rubber City Daily, an email newsletter delivered at 5:30 a.m. Monday through Friday.