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Human Trafficking: The Dark Side of the Super Bowl

PHOTO: Experts say the Super Bowl is the largest event in terms of human trafficking in the country. In Ohio, efforts have intensified to crack down on offenders and help victims. Photo courtesy Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force.
PHOTO: Experts say the Super Bowl is the largest event in terms of human trafficking in the country. In Ohio, efforts have intensified to crack down on offenders and help victims. Photo courtesy Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force.
January 30, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Super Bowl is said by some to be the largest event in terms of human trafficking, but it's a crime that takes place year-round in all states, including Ohio.

Federal and state officials say human trafficking is a growing problem, but pinning down exact numbers is difficult because it's a hidden crime. Ohio's anti-human-trafficking coordinator, Elizabeth Ronade Janis, said about 20,000 people in the United States are sexually exploited or forced into labor.

"We're talking about the black market, buying and selling of people, and the compelled service of others for profit," she said. "Profit can look like a lot of things. It can be, like, actual money; they can benefit from drugs. It can be all kinds of different ways people think to exploit other people."

Janis said Ohio has intensified efforts to address the problem by strengthening protections for victims and creating tougher penalties for traffickers. According to a report from the Attorney General's office, there were 85 human-trafficking investigations in Ohio in 2014, resulting in 98 arrests and the identification of more than 180 victims.

The Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force has coordinated prevention efforts between state agencies, and partnered with mass transit agencies, faith communities and other groups to raise public awareness. Janis said education is crucial to stopping human trafficking.

"If you're a social worker, in law enforcement, a doctor - we do mandate training for all kinds of professions in our state," she said, "but we really encourage people to pay attention and then learn the signs so they can be part of the solution in helping people who need help get help."

She said victims of human trafficking often work long and unusual hours, avoid eye contact and may appear nervous or fearful, and they may not know much about the area where they reside. Janis said nearly 3,000 Ohio children also are at risk of being exploited through human trafficking.

More information is online at publicsafety.ohio.gov/ht. The Attorney General's report is at ohioattorneygeneral.gov.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH