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YSU professor brings local problem to the classroom

Susan Laird is teaching the first class on human trafficking at Youngstown State University

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) - Susan Laird has two jobs -- teaching sociology at Youngstown State University and piloting the Northeast Ohio Coalition Against Human Trafficking (NEOCAHT).

She never had the opportunity to combine them.

Until now, that is.

"I became aware of the fact that there are very few universities in the state of Ohio that offer a course in human trafficking," she said.

When Laird proposed the idea of having a class on trafficking this semester, her department chair was all in.

"I was aware that human trafficking exists, but not really the scale or how big it was locally," said Matt O'Mansky, associate professor and chair of YSU's Sociology, Anthropology and Gerontology Department.

Counselors say it is a big problem here locally.

COMPASS Rape Crisis and Counseling Center handled six cases last year. Laird said there are likely dozens more, but they fly under the radar.

"They are involved in the opioid addiction. They are victims of sexual assault. They're struggling with homelessness, and I think that with all of those elements together in our community, that's what is happening," she said.

Laird had her first class last week, and she said her students were excited and eager to learn.

"I also get a lot of social work students that want to work with victims, so this is an opportunity for them to get a taste of that as well," Laird said.

The hope is that what they learn leaves the classroom and makes an impact.

"They're learning how to take this knowledge and take it out of YSU and into the community, wherever they live, and hopefully spread the word also about this," O'Mansky said.

Laird said local, county and state law enforcement officials are all trained on human trafficking. If you see something that doesn't look right, give them a call.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

According to the Polaris Project, there are an estimated 20.9 million victims of trafficking worldwide.

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