(WKBN) – Since the beginning of last year, a number of human trafficking stings in the area have resulted in dozens of arrests.
In the year-and-a-half since the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force was established, nearly 40 people have been arrested.
In February 2018, the task force arrested ten. Then there were 16 arrests in May of this year. In Cleveland during the All-Star Game, 28 others were arrested — a sting that involved half-a-dozen officers from the local task force.
Leaders with the unit said each one of their operations requires a lot of manpower and time, often taking months to organize.
“Not only are you searching, and getting subpoenas, and getting search warrants and reviewing to make sure you have the right person, the right house, the right IP address, which takes a lot of time,” Major Jeff Allen said.
Just Wednesday, task force members arrested Nicholas Yukon at his west side Youngstown home. They said he had been downloading pornographic images of young children — something Allen said is a form of trafficking.
“These kids in those videos and pictures are being coerced and/or forced into doing this. They’re not doing this on their own volition,” Allen said.
He said many of the young victims are exploited as they grow older, becoming drug-addicted prostitutes.
“These are the ones in the future that you will see, possibly, being trafficked.”
Investigators also worry child pornography eventually becomes a gateway to other crimes.
“Will they go to the next step and actually get involved with children? That’s what’s scary and that’s why we do this,” Allen said.
Although the number of people arrested during these stings has increased, investigators admitted their figures would be much higher if all those chatting with undercover agents online actually followed through.
“A lot of people don’t show because they’re afraid it might be law enforcement,” Allen said.
That’s another reason why task force leaders plan to continue their efforts.
“If we can cut down the amount of people looking for children on the internet for sexual activity, it’s a success for us,” Allen said.