Hundreds Unite for Ohio's First Human Trafficking Summit
By Csaba Sukosd | January 14, 2019
Inside the Greater Columbus Convention Center, hundreds of people recently gathered to discuss a dark issue, and bring it into the light: human trafficking.
Judges, court staff, prosecutors, law enforcement, advocates, and victims were among the many at the Ohio Attorney General's inaugural Human Trafficking Summit.
"We endure a lot of trauma day-to-day in the work that we do. So, it's very comforting to know that there are other people doing the same work all across the state," said Franklin County Juvenile Magistrate Lasheyl Stroud, who helps run one of the state's two human-trafficking specialized dockets specific to minors.
The event was a means to provide education and resources to several disciplines with varying knowledge bases, from beginners to experts. The day's sessions and workshops focused on the exploitation of people for sex and labor.
"Traffickers can run the operation and constantly fly in people to the United States. That's not just speaking for China, but many countries in the developing world," said Kathy Chen, a researcher for Praesidium Partners, an intelligence-driven advocacy group founded by former Federal Bureau of Investigation agents that fights human trafficking.
The biggest surprise to many people who begin investigating cases, or assisting those abused, is not only the volume - estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands in the United States - but also the realization that many victims are from the same community.
"To walk in [to court], and see young girls who look just like me, that was the major surprise that I had," Stroud said.
Among the workshops delving into greater specifics pertaining to human trafficking themes was a topic about specialty courts in Ohio. Currently, there are seven Ohio Supreme Court-certified human trafficking courts in the state. Those staffs require a higher level of training - including trauma-informed care - to notice those hiding their suffering out of fear.
"A trigger can come in any direction, especially in our court which has thousands of cases," said Vanessa Perkins, a human trafficking survivor and bailiff for Franklin County Municipal Court's specialty docket. "A lot of times, our women are walking right past their drug dealers or right past their traffickers."
As attendees absorbed the details, experts offered suggestions on best practices and ways to navigate obstacles in service and investigations. The unified effort highlighted the approach needed to combat this complex crisis.
"This issue is throughout the entire state. No matter how small your county is, human trafficking is an issue that we are facing here in Ohio. So, we all need to work together," Stroud said.