By Margaret S. Hamilton
As a graduate of the Blue Ash, Ohio, Citizen’s Police Academy, I receive notification of conferences open to the public. On January 25th, I joined 150 social workers, counselors, medical and law enforcement personnel for an all-day session, supported by the Salvation Army and American Red Cross.
The Cincinnati Salvation Army provides a twenty-four-hour hotline for trafficking victims, crisis intervention, case management, and outreach. They provide transportation, shelter, and court advocacy. Their hotline received over 3400 calls in 2018, and they served 207 new and existing clients through case management.
I attended workshops focused on victim treatment. Kris Napier is a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) at a Toledo teaching hospital. Napier spends three to four hours with each new sexual assault patient in the ER. She stressed that only the victim can consent to giving evidence—not the police (without a court order) and not a physician. In addition to Napier, an advocate from the local YMCA stays with the patient. Napier also cares for victims of domestic violence, who typically avoid treatment until they fear for their lives.
Napier has trained her staff to avoid being judgmental and makes the safety of her victim-patient a priority. No family members or boyfriends are permitted in the treatment area. When needed, Napier uses a trusted translator instead of a relative. After gaining the patient’s trust, her job is to provide medical care. If her patient asks for help, Napier and the advocates make arrangements to transport patients to safety at a local shelter.
Blue Ash Police Officer Beth Roach gave an overview of both domestic sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Law enforcement must have evidence of the act, means, and purpose of trafficking: recruitment by force, fraud, or coercion, transport, and providing labor or sexual services. Officer Roach discussed various recruitment techniques by Romeo pimps, who wine and dine their victims before coercing them into their organizations. These pimps provide housing, food, and drugs for their girls. Roach noted that pimps have an incredible ability to identify and coerce young women.
International trafficking victims usually don’t speak English. Their pimps assure them local law enforcement officers are part of ICE and will deport them.
Internet solicitation is a huge problem. Currently, prostitutes use Grindr, Tinder, and Facebook to solicit customers, sometimes using a bouquet of roses code to designate different sexual acts (seventy or one hundred roses). Law enforcement officers searching for child sex trafficking victims use Spotlight, a website free to police departments that enables an officer to search for a specific child in a specific region if the child is advertised on the internet.
Human trafficking cases are difficult to prosecute. Often, a prosecutor will pursue drug and gun charges instead. Victims and witnesses are usually relocated by their organizations to different cities before the case comes to trial.
Blue Ash officers routinely investigate prostitution in local massage parlors. They can appeal to the landlord with a nuisance complaint, or ask the Fire Department inspectors to report irregularities. Another trend is using a hotel as a “one stop shop” with rooms, girls, and drugs.
Labor trafficking also exists, typically in restaurants. Witnesses observe vanloads of workers dropped off and picked up eighteen hours later.
Rachel Johnson is a doctoral student who works with trafficked victims. Her patients, some of whom were forced to work when they were thirteen, have nightmares, flashbacks, and low self-worth. They often have developmental and learning disabilities, and many are substance abusers, because street drugs help them cope with trauma. Victims consider themselves life’s losers, but they also exhibit strong maternal instincts to the younger girls in their organization. Many were rejected and abused as children.
Attorney Elizabeth Well, representing the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center, spoke about victims’ rights post-Marsy’s law, a law which gives victims safety, dignity, and privacy. Attorney Well told the story of a young woman who was the victim of childhood incest. When her prospective employers googled her name, the first article was about the trial. Well and her non-profit lobbied to ensure the victim’s privacy on social media.
The day-long session ended with a panel discussion by trafficking victims, including Harold D’Souza, who lives in Blue Ash and whose children attended my daughter’s high school. Harold came to Blue Ash with an H-1B visa to work as a business development manager for an annual salary of $75,000. Instead, Harold and his wife Dancy and their two sons lived in an unfurnished apartment while Harold and Dancy worked unpaid fifteen-hour days, 7 days a week, at a local Indian restaurant. After nineteen months, Dancy protested. A lawyer came to the restaurant and threatened them with arrest and deportation. The family sought help from the Blue Ash Police Department, which referred them to the Department of Labor (and for Dancy, the State of Ohio equivalent). Local organizations donated money for housing and food. Cincinnati Works helped Harold find a position with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, where he works as a senior supply chain associate. President Obama appointed Harold to a two-year term on the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. Harold and Dancy now lead a non-profit organization, Eyes Open International, addressing labor trafficking.
Readers and writers, are you aware of labor or sex trafficking in your community?