Learn to spot, stop human trafficking

For nearly a generation, our state promoted tourism with the words, “Ohio, The Heart of It All.”

The slogan was apt, literally and figuratively. The state’s economic development entity notes Ohio is within 600 miles of more than half the U.S. and Canadian populations.

In short, we are within a day’s drive of the East Coast, Midwest and South. That’s an advantage to those who operate businesses – even illegal operations.

The Ohio Department of Public Safety notes that because Ohio is centrally located, interstate highways passing through the state are used by traffickers to smuggle victims of forced labor, often in the sex trade.

That’s why state leaders are putting extra effort this month to raise awareness of human trafficking, also known as the slave trade. Attorney General Mike DeWine asks residents to help stop human trafficking.

DeWine urges Ohioans who suspect the crime to notify authorities. He said red flags to watch for include people who are never left alone, who show signs of physical abuse or psychological trauma, or who live and work in the same location.

The Department of Public Safety notes its divisions are taking steps to halt this form of slavery. They include:

The Ohio State Highway Patrol has trained more than 3,000 state employees on identifying, confronting and preventing human trafficking. Also, troopers are trained to identify signs of human trafficking during traffic stops.

Similarly, members of the Ohio Investigative Unit have been trained to identify signs of human trafficking, which they watch for while conducting routine operations in liquor establishments.

Ohio Homeland Security is promoting the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s “Blue Campaign,” an initiative to coordinate and enhance efforts to address human trafficking through public outreach, victim protection and law enforcement training.

The Office of Criminal Justice Services recently released a toolkit to offer service providers, coalitions and advocates with a victim-centered framework and capacity building tool as they work to assist survivors in their own communities. You can access the toolkit at www.publicsafety.ohio.gov/ht.

And, as the Ohio attorney general requested, you can help. To report a trafficking tip, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline Resource Center at (888) 373-7888 or text BeFree to 233733.